I took some time to look through the micrographs in my diagnostic files for topics to write about this year. I found some truly interesting photos, but many of the subjects would not fill enough space for a full column. In spite of this, I think it would be useful to share some of these ?finds? with you.
Recently, I photographed an interesting altered 1909-S VDB Lincoln cent. The coin is circulated, cleaned and etched slightly. Its date and mintmark are shown in Fig. 1. The pattern of lines on its surface result partly from the etching and partly from the copper-brass color streaked alloy of its planchet. This form of streaking can often be seen on genuine Indian Head cents and early Lincolns.
What?s most interesting about this coin is its ?S? mintmark. This coin is a FS#1c-012.3. That?s the variety number assigned to a 1909-S/horizontal ?S? cent. See the tiny lump from the top serif of the mispunched ?S? at the right side of the mintmark? This variety does not come with Victor D. Brenner?s initials (VDB) on the reverse.
Figure 2 shows the edge of this coin. The edge has been filed in an attempt to hide the seam where the halves of two different coins were joined together.
The faker took the obverse half of a genuine 1909-S and paired it with the reverse from a genuine 1909 VDB cent. Unfortunately, in this case, he didn?t do his homework ? he ruined a perfectly good ?S? over horizontal ?S? coin while making this fake.
Now, take a look at the reverse of the Bust quarter in Figure 3. What color is it? Gray? You?re correct. Beyond the fact that I?m illustrating it in a black-and-white photo, this is also an indication that the coin is toned. Now, what grade is it? Here the question becomes more difficult. In the first place, it is very hard to grade a coin from a photograph. It is harder still with just a small part of the coin present. Further, this coin is weakly struck, and that?s the rub ? pun intended.
Once a weakly struck coin becomes toned, it is difficult to determine if any design detail was lost due to circulation.
This coin offers us some clues. Look for original mint luster. We can find some bright highlights from luster in the letters of the motto, and in the feathers of the wing and neck. This coin does not exhibit enough luster to ring my bell, but there are some other characteristics to consider. The surfaces of this coin are virtually free of the marks we might expect to find on a circulated piece. Additionally, the flat area on the wing tips, neck feathers and eagle?s head are evenly colored with no noticeable tiny scratches. These characteristics argue for an uncirculated specimen because any rubbing would have destroyed the smooth even color on the high points of the design, leaving a two-toned area with micro scratches.
Now, let me play the devil?s advocate: Suppose this weakly struck coin was pulled from circulation a century ago and its surface toned down evenly over time.
What do you think? Is the coin uncirculated with a weak strike or a toned about uncirculated specimen?