Off-metal coins are those struck using a metal alloy different from the originally intended one. Off-metal strikes previously designated by “(OMS)” which also included the wide range of error coinage struck in other than their officially authorized compositions have been incorporated into Pattern listings along with special issues, which were struck for presentation or other reasons. Collectors of Germanic coinage may be familiar with the term “Abschlag” which quickly identifies similar types of coinage.
Off-metal coins can be categorized by the intentions of the people who made them:
- accidental off-metal strikes
- off-metal strikes to experiment with various alloys in anticipation of a change in the coinage
- off-metal strikes for sale to collectors.
Though these categories appear to be distinct and separate, the lines are often blurred and we can only guess at the original intent. Often, the coins themselves give us the clues we need.
Another area where off-metal strikes abound is Civil War Tokens, which are broken down into Storecards and Patriotics. In addition to being a replacement for the coins that were being pulled from circulation and hoarded, Storecards were a way for merchants to advertise their businesses. Patriotic Civil War Tokens presented no advertising and consisted primarily of patriotic designs. Most Civil War Tokens were the diameter of a U.S. Indian Head Cent and the vast majority of them were made of copper. However, many off-metal variants were made in small quantities in a variety of metals, including brass, white metal, lead, nickel, copper-nickel, and silver. Some Civil War Tokens were intentional overstrikes on copper-nickel U.S. cents, silver Seated Liberty Dimes, and even coins from other countries.
Finding good values in off-metal coins is a real challenge. Sometimes they bring a premium (often huge) over the regular types, sometimes they are priced the same, and other times, they can be purchased for less than the cost of a similar type coin. As a general rule, off-metal error coins and Civil War Tokens command a premium; often, an off-metal pattern coin will sell for less than the price of a corresponding type coin.