Plugged dates to the 1880s. Back when coins actually contained valuable metal, it was a counterfeiting practice to remove the silver or other valuable metal from the center of the coin and replace it with a plug of lead or other base metal. From the 26 September 1883 Indiana Weekly Messenger:
All that was found in the shape of money was a plugged quarter.
And we have plugged nickel from the 1930s. From Carl Sandburg’s 1936 The People, Yes:
He seems to think he’s the frog’s tonsils but he looks to me like a plugged nickel.
Why did plugged nickel catch on and other denominations of coin not? Early citations tend to favor plugged quarters, but in cases like this there often is no reason. Why one choice is favored over another is unknown. One possible choice just catches on.
(Source: Oxford English Dictionary, 3rd Edition)
Copyright 1997-2015, by David Wilton