The most common way that fake two-headed and two-tailed coins are made isn't what you'd expect, which is why many people who find them are reluctant to accept the truth about them. They are not made by cutting two coins in half and then sticking the halves together, which is why you won't see a seam along the edge, giving the coin away.
Instead, two-headed coins are made by hollowing out the center of one coin, leaving the plain or reeded edge and head side intact, and then shaving down a second coin so that it fits snugly inside the shell of the first. You need a fair amount of skill at metalworking to accomplish this, not to mention all of the proper tools, but the result is a clever deception that is hard to detect with the naked eye.
How to Detect the Seam of a Two-Headed Coin
If you use a strong magnifying glass to look very carefully along the rim of the two-headed coin's face, on one side or the other, you'll see a very fine line around the circumference of the coin. This line isn't on the edge of the coin; it's actually on the front (or back) very close to the rim. This is where the shaved down coin was inserted into the hollow shell of the other.
If, after carefully examining your two-headed or two-tailed coin, you still aren't convinced that it's a novelty item, take it to a coin dealer and ask him to show you how it's made. One thing is for certain, it wasn't made that way by the U.S Mint!
Why it is Impossible for Two-Headed Coins to Come From the U.S. Mint
The U.S. Mint (and most other world mints) have built-in protections against accidentally making coins that have the improper die rotation or die setup. The shaft of the dies is made to be a certain size and shape so that they will only fit into the coin presses a certain way. Dies that have the "heads" (or obverse) design on them have shafts of one shape (perhaps square,) while the dies with the "tails" (or reverse) have a differently shaped shaft (perhaps round.) Since you can't put a square shaft into a round hole, this prevents the mint workers from accidentally making two-headed (or two-tailed) coins.
However, several genuine two-headed coins have been certified from the United States Mint. Most professional numismatists agreed that the two-headed coin must've been made by some unscrupulous mint employees while their supervisors were not looking. Since the United States Mint cannot prove these coins were made serendipitously, they are completely legal to own.
One Exception: a Genuine Mint Error
There may not be a genuine two-headed United States coin, but there is an authentic two-tailed quarter. The coin was struck from two reverse dies using the United States Washington Quarter design.it was authenticated by both the Secret Service and Numismatic Guarantee Corporation. The coin was found in a safe deposit box in 2000, along with many other error coins from the San Francisco mint. There is speculation that the coin may have been a trial piece that was retained by a former mint employee. One sold for $80,000 by private treaty in 2001. Another sold for $41,975 in August 2006 by Heritage Auctions.
- Original auction listing of Undated Washington Quarter Struck With Two Reverse Dies
One Genuine Two-Headed Coin That Is Not an Error
The United States Mint did produce one two-headed coin on purpose. This was not a mistake or a covert operation that happened in the middle of the night. The coin was designed explicitly with a head on each side. The 1904 & 1905 Lewis and Clark Gold Commemorative Dollar, is the nation's only coin to feature two portraits on separate sides. Capt. Meriwether Lewis is on one side and Capt. William Clark is on the other. The side with the date of 1905 at the bottom and the inscription "LEWIS-CLARK EXPEDITION PORTLAND ORE." is commonly considered the obverse while the other side with the inscription of "UNITED STATES OF AMERICA" and the denomination of "ONE DOLLAR," is regarded as the reverse.
The United States Mint also made other coins with two heads on them. But these coins had two heads on the same side of the coin. For example, the 1900 commemorative Lafayette Dollar had the heads of George Washington and Marquis de Lafayette on the obverse. The 1921 Alabama Centennial silver dollar has the busts of William Wyatt Bibb, the first governor of Alaska, and T. E. Kilby, the governor at the time the state Centennial was being celebrated. This is the first instance of a living person being portrayed on a United States coin.
Edited by: James Bucki