By James Essence, inspired by Len Roosmalen
On his American Entertainer reality TV show, Wayne Newton stated, "I
always learned the most from my mistakes, not at any other times." In a
similar way (I think), many numismatists are finding that collecting
error coins is educational, fun, and affordable, and some dealers are
beginning to capitalize on this oft-overlooked sector of the market.
Error coins are educational in that they reveal the subtleties of the
minting process by inspiring the collector to figure out what went wrong
to produce them. Due to the enjoyment of this speculation, and due to
the often spectacular visual appeal of mint errors, collecting them is
fun. And errors are affordable because they are one of the last
bastions of numismatics not yet "discovered" or heavily promoted. For
these reasons errors are great items to collect and for dealers to sell
to their clients, whether building a set of errors, or as compliments to
a "regular" coin collection. For collectors and dealers that are
interested in including errors to their collections and offerings, this
article will elaborate on the educational, fun, and affordable aspects
of collecting, and along the way provide some educational resources, as
well a "crash-course-glossary" to introduce the "error-novice" into this
Collecting Errors Is Educational
Just as coins are educational in the fascinating stories and revelations
of history that they hold, error coins hold their own unique stories.
By pondering the causes of mint errors, one can glean fascinating tales
of the minting process and what can potentially go wrong. Whether it is
stories of intrigue such as a young mint night watchman named Eckfeldt
creating die clashes of seated halves and $20 gold pieces on 1857 Flying
eagle cent dies, or learning how the collar malfunctions to allow a coin
to be struck off center, errors have many fascinating tales to tell.
Knowing the minting process and viewing the extremes of its malfunction
can also aid in grading and pricing of "normal" coins by sharpening
one's identification skills of the differences between mint-made and
post-striking impairments. A few such contrasts that are often mistaken
are as follows:
to name a few. Sometimes the differences can be clear, other times
identification can be tricky, and if a person is familiar with errors
and the minting process that person will have an edge in proper
- Die polish lines and hairlines
- strike through errors and post-striking bag marks/damage
- strike through errors and wear
- laminated planchet errors and post-striking damage
- weak strikes and wear
- clipped planchet errors and damage
To learn further about the causes of mint errors, the following are
recommended references: The Error Coin Encyclopedia by Arine Margolis
and Fred Weinberg, The Official Price Guide to Mint Errors by Alan
Herbert, The Modern Minting Process/U.S. Minting Errors and Varieties by
James Wiles, PHD, Mint Error News magazine (see contact info below), and
Error Trends magazine (see below).
Collecting Errors is Fun
Even non-numimatists can appreciate the spectacular visual appeal of an
off center cent. Or, to the seasoned numismatist, it may be a nickel
struck on a copper cent planchet, a double struck large cent, or a
capped die barber dime that sparks their mind into imagination and
wonder. In short, viewing and owning error coins is fun. In addition
to the aesthetic appeal of errors, many find speculating about how
errors occur intellectually stimulating and enjoyable. Then add the
camaraderie that often develops among collectors when debating how some
of the more unusual multiple errors and "wonder coins" occur, and you
have the sum of an enjoyable hobby. In addition to coin shows, some
forums where collectors and dealers gather to discuss errors are as
Collecting errors is affordable
Perhaps because of the uniqueness of each mint error, mint errors as a
whole have not been as heavily promoted as most sectors of the market.
There are endless ways to collect errors according to the collector's
interest and budget. It could be a young numismatist adding an off
center cent (costing under $10) to compliment his memorial cent
collection, or assembling a renown collection of error large cents like
the Micheal Arconti collection of error large cents that realized over
$4.8 million in an auction by Superior Rare Coin Galleries.
Values of errors: As with anything, the values of errors can be broken
down into the following formula: vale = demand/quantity. However
pricing errors is not as straightforward as pricing regular coins. Eye
appeal usually accounts for a great deal more with errors. Use the
previously mentioned resources as guides for pricing errors, but prices
are often dramatically influenced by positive and negative eye appeal,
perhaps in a way similar to dramatically toned coins in the normal coin
In accordance with the collector's interest and budget, some popular
ways to collect errors are as follows:
- Error Type Set:
Set of coins exhibiting each type of error. For
example, a collection consisting of an off metal, a clipped coin, an off
Type Set of Errors:
Same as a "normal' type set, except each coin has
an error, or a particular error, such as a 20th century type set of off
center coins, or a simple blank planchet set of cent through dollar
which can be purchased for under $250.
Particular Type Set of Errors:
Set of errors of the same type on
variously denominated coins. For example a collection of interesting
brockages, or clips, or multiple errors.
For example, a complete date set of buffalo nickels, all with
clips, or even off centers for a real challenge. Or perhaps a more
attainable goal of an off center Memorial cent collection, or even zinc
memorial collection. Most dated off center memorial cents can be
purchased for under $25 each, and under 10 dates/mints command over
Series Error Set:
Consisting of error coins on a series, for example a
neat collection of State quarter or Barber dime errors.
For example, rounding out an uncirculated buffalo
nickel collection with an off center and/or clip, or even an off metal
for the adventurous.
"Looks Cool" Set:
One of the most popular sets consisting of
miscellaneous errors that simply "look cool" to the collector.
In conclusion, for many collecting error coins is educational, fun, and
affordable, and presents an exciting opportunity for collectors and
dealers to expand their collections and range of offerings to clients.
To finish, a brief crash-course-know-your-errors-glossary. These are
the most commonly encountered errors. For a more complete listings and
explanations, see the resources listed above:
Coin struck without a collar, thus when the coin is struck
the metal is allowed to expand and increase in diameter. May be
centered or uncentered, but must not have any missing lettering or
Coin struck without a collar and off center, different from
the uncentered broadstrike because part of the lettering or design
detail is missing.
Coin struck with the collar partially around the coin
causing part of the edge to expand and part of the edge will be held in
place (and have reeding if clad) by the collar. Also called "railroad
rim" due to the edge of the coin's appearance being similar to that of
the edge a two-level railroad wheel.
When one side of a coin is struck normally by the dies and the
other side is struck into a blank planchet or other obstruction leaving
a blank appearance on that side. Commonly encountered with off center
and double struck coins.
Dies are made by multiple impressions from a "hub" which
bears an inverse image of the dies. Dies must be impressed several
times by the hub to get a good image. A doubled die occurs when the hub
rotates, or shifts, or is changed in some way between impressions of the
die creating a doubled image of elements of the design. Thus every coin
struck by that die displays the same doubled elements.
Often looks like a doubled die but is not. It is
caused by loose dies that twist slightly after coming into contact with
the planchet causing the die to slightly drag on the coin producing a
flat, shelf-like doubled appearance. Also under this classification is
excessive die wear and/or improper die annealing that will cause the
elements of the design to appear doubled simply because the lettering
and design elements are thick and mushy. Mechanical doubling usually
commands very little premium. Be especially careful of this error on
1969-S cents which can sometimes be mistaken for the very rare and
valuable 1969-S doubled die cent.
A crack in the die into which metal from the planchet will
flow when the die strikes coins. Coins struck with that die exhibit a
thin raised line or "die crack"
A chip out of the die into which metal from the planchet
will flow when the die strikes coins. It appears as a raised blob of
metal on the struck coins. When the die break is large it is sometimes
called a "cud."
When a significant part of the edge of the die deteriorates and
falls off. The coins struck with this die exhibit a raised blank area
on that part of the design. Sometimes called "major die break"
Caps or die caps:
When a coin is struck and sticks to the die for
numerous strikes, the metal flows up around the die and the coin takes
on the shape of a bottle cap. A very eye appealing and desirable error.
Capped die strike:
When a die cap error is occurring, the dies continue
to strike more coins even though a coin is capped around one of the
dies. If the coin is capped around the obv. die, the coins stuck with
that die will appear blank or have varying degrees of mushyness on the
obv. due to the obverse die being obstructed. If the cap stays on
indefinitely, eventually it will wear through the planchet and the coins
struck by that die will become less and less obstructed causing a
"late-stage" capped die strike where the image is less distorted.
When a blank planchet partially overlaps another planchet in
the striking chamber and gets struck, the overlapping area on the struck
coin will exhibit a blank indented area from the other planchet being
struck into it.
Occurs the same as an indent, except that a struck coin is
struck into a blank planchet leaving a mirror image impression, although
often quite distorted due to metal flow.
Struck through error:
Occurs when a foreign object lies on top of the
planchet and leaves an impression of itself when struck into the coin.
A wide variety of objects have been reported including grease, string,
cloth, hair, plastic, bandaid, staples, etc.
Weak strike or Die trial:
Occurs when there is insufficient pressure
from the dies to leave a full impression on the planchet. This can
occur for a variety of reasons but usually occurs when the power to the
presses is turned off and the dies continue to strike coins with less
and less pressure until coming to a stop. On such coins all the detail,
including the reeding on clad coins should exhibit extreme weakness. If
the coin is simply struck through grease, some details may be strong and
the edge reading will also be strong.
Curved Clipped Planchet:
Planchets are punched from large thin metal
sheets. After a section of the sheet is punched, if the sheet fails to
be fed far enough ahead, the punch will overlap an already punched area
causing that planchet to have a circular "clip" of missing metal. A
good way to tell if the coin is an error or simply damage that occurred
outside the mint is to look for signs of metal flow into the blank area,
which indicates a genuine clip. This will appear as weakness and
thinness around the missing metal. There will also often be a
corresponding area of weakness on the rim of the opposite side of the
coin, known as the "Blakesley effect." A genuine clip will never show a
raised edge of metal bordering the missing metal (which usually
indicates shearing) and the details bordering the area of missing metal
should not be crisp.
Straight clipped planchet:
If the metal strip shifts during the
punching process and the punches overlap the straight side edge of the
strip, a straight area of metal will be missing from the planchet.
Ragged clipped planchet:
If the punches overlap the ragged ends of the
strip, a resulting ragged area of missing metal occurs.
Wrong planchet/off metal:
When a planchet is struck by a pair of dies
that do not correspond to the denomination intended for the planchet, a
wrong planchet error occurs. For example a Jefferson nickel struck on a
cent planchet will have the same weight and copper composition as a
cent. It will likely be smaller than a nickel, but probably slightly
larger than a cent because the nickel collar cannot restrain the smaller
cent planchet from expanding.
Occurs when an already struck coin is struck by a
pair of dies of a different denomination. These coins will show details
of both denominations. For example a cent struck on a struck dime
(often called an 11c piece) will have the planchet of a dime and details
of both a dime and a cent. Usually the details of the denomination of
the last dies to strike to coin are strongest and some double
denomination coins barely show any detail from the denomination of the
Occurs when there is a malfunction in the planchet
feeding mechanism and no planchet is fed into the striking chamber
allowing the dies to strike each other. The obv. die will leave an
impression in the rev. die and vice versa. Coins struck with these dies
will exhibit details of both the obv and rev. on each side of the coin.
The amount of detail can vary from barely discernable to very
Dirt and impurities in the metal of the planchet can
manifest themselves as cracks and peels on the struck coin.
If the impurity is severe enough, it can case the
planchet to split into two halves obv. and rev. If the planchet splits
before the strike, the resulting coin will be thin and have detail on
both sides but often intermingled with rough striations from the
impurities. If the planchet splits after the strike, one side will have
full detail and the other side will be blank and striated. In either
case the coin will be thin.