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Educate yourself about errors

Are you stupid? I don’t think so, but over the years I have made some observations about human behavior.

The new Washington plain-edge dollar error is a wonderful discovery. It gets people looking at the new coins in hopes of making a marketing killing. One fellow has already showed me a check for over $4,100 that he earned by selling a group of plain-edge Washington dollars to a dealer.

That kind of money is enough to gain anyone’s attention – and it has. But that also is a problem.
When a valuable error is discovered, people look at their coins. They then notice other things that are a little odd or different. If a plain-edge coin can be worth so much money, why not the mysterious line on another dollar that kind of looks like a spear? Why not a line caused by a die crack that looks like a crease across the forehead of the first President?

Why not, indeed.

At root is the significance test. Most of these anomalies, which the numismatic hobby calls errors, fail this test, but when coins can be posted in online auctions, a plausible story can earn a profit while actual research or learning is just too much trouble especially when it leads to finding out why a coin has no extra value.

The recent run of postings of so-called upside down edge lettering got so much online momentum despite repeated news stories that they are not errors that the U.S. Mint had to jump in and issue a consumer alert to inform would-be buyers that the lettering is random, with roughly half up and half down.

Are the letter orientations on the Washington coins collectible? Absolutely. The difference is notable. The Professional Coin Grading Service announced today that it is slabbing both and correctly advised collectors that neither is inherently worth any extra money over the other.

For errors in general, keep in mind that most coins have something wrong with them if you look hard enough. They are the products of the Industrial Age and they are prone to industrial quality control problems.

Clever names for errors usually mean that the error is not significant enough to stand on its own. It needs a marketing push. Don’t fall for it.

I ask again, “Are you stupid?” If you are not educating yourself about what makes some errors valuable and most others valueless over time, the answer might be yes. Grading services want to help you. The hobby’s error experts do, too. But you also have to want to help yourself. For more information, visit