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Errors prompt many questions

A handwritten letter arrived yesterday. The sender poses a question.

He writes, “A few years back 20+ I found a 1988-P mint set with a doubled Washington quarter.

"Since then I’ve bought hundreds of ’88 sets, but have found only 15 sets that are doubled.

“Some can be seen with the naked eye, but on most one needs a magnifying glass.

“How does one go about finding the true value of these sets?

“What bothers me most is how can the face double but no other part of the coin has any doubling?”

I receive many inquiries like this. Possible mint errors often cause puzzlement or inspire dreams of riches.

The writer’s last two sentences read, “Your ad says no letters only e-mails. I’m over 70 and do not even know what an e-mail is.”

He even adds a postscript, “Been collecting for over 60 years and never sold one coin.” He even underlined “never” for emphasis.

The last sentence in the postscript says, “Got my first coin ever 1864 with L on ribbon Indian Head.”

The first thing I did after reading this was I checked doubled dies. There are no known 1988-P quarter doubled dies that I can find.

But the real clue for me is the writer’s own statement that the doubling varies. That is the tell-tale sign that it is machine doubling damage, which occurs as the coin is ejected from the press.

In this event the coin slides a bit across the obverse die because the die is retracting a fraction of a second more slowly than the ejection of the newly struck coin is occurring. A little metal moves as a result.

Damage caused that way varies and because it is damage, error collectors do not value it.

Real doubled dies are uniform. If the doubled die were actually a doubled die, the doubling on each quarter would be identical. This is because the die used to strike each coin has the doubling on it.

The writer did include a phone number, so I will give him a call.

He apparently has had a great time in numismatics to still be going strong after six decades. His enthusiasm is apparent in his letter.

But I cannot help but worry about someone who has never sold anything, or taken advantage of all of the information the internet puts at everyone's fingertips.

He is needlessly cutting himself off.

I am curious who the writer is buying these 1988 sets from. If it is a dealer, it would be logical for him to have a discussion.

Since he has not sold any coins, will his heirs receive the hundreds of 1988 mint sets he says he has purchased?

That question might be answered years down the road when they write someone like me asking what they should do with them.

Buzz blogger Dave Harper is winner of the 2014 Numismatic Literary Guild Award for Best Blog and is editor of the weekly newspaper "Numismatic News."