Rumours will always persist on fabled 1936 dot cent

The recent sale of the Pittman-Krause 1936 dot cent adds another chapter to a great coin story. The 1936 dots are somewhat controversial, to say the least. We do know that in some denominations 1936 dot coins were produced and did go into circulation. In the case of the 25-cent and 5-cent coins they can be challenging to find, but we know they are out there in circulated condition. There are, however, no known circulated examples of a 1936 dot cent, despite reports that many were made.

Officially they were never needed and were therefore melted. So where did the three coins that exist today come from? Well, they turned up in the hands of a retired Mint official, Maurice LaFortune, and his coin dealer buddy. The most common explanation is that they were recovered from the pyx box at the Royal Canadian Mint. For those who may not know the term, it refers to the practice of randomly selecting coins from production and putting them in a sealed box. The coins are then subjected to third-party scrutiny to ensure that they are of proper weight and size.

In Britain it is called the Trial of the Pyx, and the name carried over to Canada. Back in the old days, the trial was a big deal. A minter found guilty of producing underweight coins would have his hands chopped off and nailed over his door. The trial continues to this day in Britain, but I haven’t heard of it happening in Canada, and I don’t know if it took place in 1936 or 1937, or even if there was such thing as a pyx box at the RCM at that time. There are other, more sinister rumours.

Well-placed sources have told me that they believe the coins were struck on the side, after the production strike coins were all melted and smuggled out the door. Others say that the novel coins caught the eye of LaFortune and he arranged to have them saved from the melting pot. There are even rumblings that one or more may exist in Mint condition. All of these are just rumours. What we do know is that only three are known today. We also know that the one just sold was stolen from John Jay Pittman’s house. We also know that the coin was reportedly dropped off at a coin dealer, with another, in an envelope. Apparently the thieves, unable to sell the coin, had a sudden attack of guilt and decided to return them.

Here again, conspiracy theorists talk about an illicit deal to ransom the coins back, on provision of anonymity. Pittman was a remarkable collector who managed to acquire all three of the 1936 dot cents at one time, and hung onto them until after his death. At one time he was simultaneously president of both the RCNA and the ANA; an unmatched achievement. There are even rumours that he was involved in the deal to have the coins produced, and that’s how he managed to put all three together. I did meet Pittman once, but we never got a chance to discuss the 1936 dot coin. I also received a telephone call once from someone claiming to be related to the original owner of the coin who claimed the coins had been the centrepieces of a proud owner’s collection.

Several times a year, someone reports the discovery of a 1936 dot cent in circulation. In almost all of these cases, the “dots” are actually die cuts of the wrong size and location to qualify. There are also counterfeits made by skilled forgers. Face it, when the coin is worth as much as the 1936 dot cent, there’s a lot of motivation to tempt the unscrupulous. For that reason, most certification firms will only attribute the coin in Uncirculated condition. That makes some sense, there are no known circulated examples to provide a knowledge base. Somehow, I am quite convinced that I will be writing many more stories about this fabled coin for some time to come.

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