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Bicentennials in 1975, 1976 proof sets

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Both my 1975 and 1976 proof sets have the same Bicentennial quarters, half dollars and dollars. Is this a mistake?

Both the 1975 and 1976 proof sets contained the Bicentennial quarters, halves and dollars, so both are normal sets for the year. There were no quarters, halves or dollars struck bearing a 1975 date. The Mint felt that there wouldn’t be time to gear up for the extra production of the 1976-dated quarters, halves and Ike dollars, so none was struck with 1975 dates.

A longtime collector once told me that a chop-marked Trade dollar is scarcer, and thus worth more, than one without the chop marks. Is this still true?

It never was true. Chop marks are alterations or mutilations of the coin. When the Trade dollars were called in and redeemed, those with chop marks were rejected. The story traces back to a coin dealer who was attempting to unload an accumulation of chop-marked coins several decades ago.

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I recently purchased a bag of 1943 mixed-mint steel cents at a local antique auction. Enclosed is a sample for your evaluation.

There is no way to break this one gently, but you have been taken as the coin enclosed has been altered. The original zinc plating was stripped off, and the steel core was then re-plated. The alteration leaves you with a bag of beautiful coins that are worth 1 cent each. In this case, the buyer paid $850 for the bag, so he lost $800 on the deal.

I have a 1935 cent that has a bead pattern on most of the obverse rim. Is this some special issue?

Examination of the coin confirmed my suspicion that this is a coin that had been pressed into a lucky token. This is done with a pair of dies that impart the design to the token at the same time that it is squeezed against the coin to lock it in place. The bead pattern was an overlap from the token dies onto the coin that was slightly out of position.

I have a large cent that has a misspelling of “CENT.” I’ve never seen anything in any of the catalogs about it, so am I right in assuming it is rare and valuable?

You will progress a lot farther as a variety collector if you assume exactly the opposite about any coin variety that you find. The principal reason for not finding a listing is that it either is so common that it isn’t worth wasting paper on, or that it is – as in this case – an alteration.

What is a soft die?

A soft die is a tool made of aluminum or hard plastic that is used to alter a coin. It’s squeezed or hammered onto the face of one coin. The resulting incuse image is used to alter another coin. The method was similar to that used to fake the multi-strike 1964 cents, many of which are still around. There is an aluminum alloy often used that becomes almost as soft as butter when heat treated and then hardens overnight to equal soft steel. Coins struck with soft dies can usually be detected by the spreading out of the design because both the die and the coin expand as the die is made.

I have a cent with a smaller than normal diameter. Is this a legitimate minting variety?

The correct diameter for a cent is 0.750 of an inch, so the immediate suspicion is that the coin has been altered as there is no normal way of striking an undersized coin. It would require the special manufacture of a pair of dies and a matching collar. One possibility is that the coin has been “swedged,” or forced through a tapered tube, which will reduce the diameter.

What was the Trial of the Pyx?

It was the traditional check of weight, bullion content and fineness of English coins. It was initiated during the reign of Edward III in England 1327-1376. It’s still conducted by the Company of Goldsmiths. The pyx is the box into which the mint master placed the coins to be tested. Boxes of coins are called “pyxides” and the shortened form came down to us. Assays of a similar nature were made in 1208 in England during the reign of King John, and in 1248 King Henry III and the Lord Mayor of London conducted an assay.

E-mail inquiries to AnswerMan2@aol.com. Because of space limitations, we are unable to publish all questions.

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