Is the Obama Quarter for Real?

If it looks like a quarter and the store accepts it ...

By Roseanne Colletti
|  Tuesday, Mar 2, 2010  |  Updated 9:37 AM EDT
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There's a new quarter circulating throughout our area, and the U.S. mint didn't make it.

There's a new quarter circulating throughout our area, and the U.S. mint didn't make it.

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They don't look like regular quarters. The small discs actually look fake.

"These are the new Obama quarters," explained the clerk at a Yonkers UPS store as she handed over change.

Huh? Doesn't it take an act of Congress to put a person on coin or currency and doesn't that person have to be deceased?

The Obama quarters are gold plated and bear a picture -- baby pictures, in some cases -- of the 44th president on one side. Regular quarters are engraved with the face of George Washington and made of copper and nickel.

In the case of the Obama quarter, a decal of Barack covers the engraving of George. Nonetheless, the store clerk insisted the Obamized 25-cent pieces were authentic because she got them from the Webster Bank a few blocks away.

Branch manager David Delgado said customers deposited the coins and the bank recirculated them to other customers.

"I have a store and give [them] to my customers as change," said Joe Sagman, who owns a lingerie store at the Cross County Mall. 

"These are real coins turned into novelty items, "said Ed Steadham, a Webster Bank spokesman.

But is an altered coin still currency? As long as you're not trying to cheat anybody with one and it's accepted by the other party, it is, according to Michael White of the U.S. Mint.

Dubious, we tested it out. But when we bought a soda from a Manhattan street vendor using one of the coins, we were surprised by his lack of curiosity.

"This is the second time I've seen one," said Alberto Delacruz.

The coins are legal tender, but that doesn't make them a rare collector's item.

"They will never be worth more than a quarter, " said David Heller, the owner of F.H. Coins and Collectibles in Manhattan.

Heller explained that once a coin is altered it loses it's value from a coin collector's viewpoint and becomes merely a souvenir.

Even though they look like collectibles, the Obama quarters are showing up in circulation because those who have them have realized they're only worth a quarter so the coins may as well be put to use.

"Private companies just made so many of them after the election," said Heller. "They're leftovers or people who bought them have finally figured out they're only worth face value and so they might as well use them as money."

Altering a coin is considered defacing it and there is a federal law against it when fraudulent intent is involved. That's the clearest explanation we could glean from the Treasury, U.S. Mint, and Secret Service. The U.S. Attorney's Office in Manhattan would only say it doesn't comment on cases it is not actively investigating.

The denomination does make a difference, however. While an embellished quarter may get you a wink and a pass, fudging Ben Franklin off a $100 bill may net you some unwanted scrutiny.

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