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Eagle designs magnet for criticism

This article was originally printed in Numismatic News.
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Wasn’t there some sort of uncomplimentary nickname for the Flying Eagle cents when they first were issued?

The public has a persistent habit of turning up its nose at new coin designs, and the Flying Eagle cent was no exception, quickly getting a sneer from the traditionalists. As a result, the coin was nicknamed the “buzzard cent.” No doubt someone at one time or another has derided just about every U.S. coin that carried an eagle design. This is especially true of some of the earlier pieces that had eagles that might be construed to be of dubious ancestry, or at least the victims of less than perfect artistry.

What is the difference between a trial strike and a die adjustment strike?

Both terms are often misused. A trial strike is usually a full strength or even abnormally heavy strike with a new die or die pair, used to demonstrate what the die design is going to look like on the struck piece, whether it is a coin or a medal. A die adjustment strike is a weak or partial strike made during the setting of the press as it is adjusted for the proper distance between the dies and the proper pressure. A die adjustment strike will show weak or missing portions of the design pretty much equally on both sides of the piece and especially around the outside edges of each side.

2011 U.S. Coin Digest: Cents
2011 U.S. Coin Digest: Cents

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Is it true that counterfeit coins can be detected just by looking at them through a microscope?

Not unless the fake is fairly crude. Detecting counterfeits requires both experience and knowledge of the methods used to make bad coins. A microscope is not a guarantee of detection.


Would you send me a copy of an article that appeared some time ago?

I’m sorry, due to the limited staff in our numismatic division we have to decline requests for reprints, research or extensive listings. Usually the deadline for an answer is a matter of days and even with email lengthy lists of questions cannot be handled. The purpose of the column is to answer one or two questions that have perplexed the sender and my time is spent assembling the answers for them and for this printed column.


Where did our 5-cent coin get the nickname of “nickel?”

Actually the “nickel” is the second or third coin to wear that nickname. The white cents of 1856-1864 had 12 percent nickel and some sources indicate that they were called nickels because of the color. When the 3-cent nickel came out in 1865 the nickname was switched to that coin. I think in all three cases the subconscious intent was to specifically distinguish between the silver alloy coins and the coins that had a similar surface color but didn’t contain any silver.


Do you have a definition for “die suction?”

It is a discredited term for die clashes and other markings based on the false assumption that the coin metal was in a liquid state when struck by the dies.


What are “clash marks” on a coin?

A description frequently seen, especially on older coins, it means the marks caused by a die damaged from having been hit by the opposing die when a planchet failed to feed between them. The markings usually are in the form of the outline of parts of the design from the opposing die, as the sharp edges of the design in one die will cut into the face of the other die upon contact. The marks on the coin are often confused with a second  strike, but they are very common and rarely affect the value of anything. A current coin with very heavy die clash marks may add a small amount to the value as a minting variety.
 

I have a very worn coin that I am sure is a rare minting variety. Can you authenticate it?

The bottom line of authenticating a new variety, or even a recognized and cataloged variety, is that the coin has to be in a high enough grade so that there is absolutely no doubt that it is a Mint product that has not been altered in some way. The more worn the coin, the less likely that it can be proved to be genuine. You are wasting time and money if you try to get a vague shadow or slight irregularity in the coin surface authenticated.


What is meant by a “railroad rim” on a coin?

The proper name would actually be a “flange,” which extends outward from the edge. This is caused by the coin metal spreading horizontally over the top of the collar during the strike. The basic cause is the failure of the collar to rise up around the planchet as it’s supposed to do. It makes the coin look much like a railroad car wheel, so if you must use a nickname, at least call it a “railroad edge.”

I know that fanciful names were very popular for minting varieties in the 1960s and that a number of different type coin designs have been nicknamed, but were there similar slang terms for die breaks on the older coins?

There are numerous examples in the old listings. One in particular that stands out is the 1817 cent, as there are at least four different dies that show a small die break above the Liberty head. These were variously called a dolphin, a snail, a mouse or a rat head. Certainly not too different than the alligator, flying saucer, baseball bat, floating head and other nicknames that confounded and confused variety collectors in the 1960s.

Where did the expression “plug nickel” come from?

The original phrase was, “Not worth a plugged nickel.” I believe the original source was the practice in the West of using nickels for targets. A nickel that was hit by a bullet was considered “plugged,” and worthless. Earlier the term plugged traces back to an issue of tin coins with copper plugs in early England. The plug was supposed to be a deterrent to counterfeiting.

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