Collectors often desire beautiful, flashy coins in Mint State, as close to perfection as possible. But one group of collectors wants imperfect coins. The more dramatic the imperfection, the better. These coins can be unattractive, even ugly, and may not resemble an average example of the coin, and may not even resemble any kind of circulating coin. Sometimes a date may not be visible, although the coin is not worn. The coin may have an odd shape, and another may be struck in the wrong metal.
Mint errors make a fascinating specialty. Error coins can go back to the early 19th century, and more are being discovered every year. Classic and modern series have error coins. Once known as freaks and oddities, error coins are avidly collected and appreciated today.
Specialists in this field may want to learn about the manufacture of coins. Knowledge of the minting process allows a collector to understand how his error coins were made, and helps the collector to appreciate his coins and how special they are.
Error coins can be found on large cents or statehood quarters. Unlike varieties, which often must be viewed through close study or a magnifier, most error coins are obvious at a glance.
Among the most popular error coins are those struck off center. Coins are struck off center when the planchet, the metal disk intended for coinage striking, is not centered correctly. Coins can be only 5 percent off center, up to 75 percent and more. Sometimes the design is almost completely missing. I once saw a 1921 Morgan dollar struck off center, to the point where the mintmark, if any, was not visible. This common coin was not so common with this strike, and sold for a good price.
Sometimes a planchet is not struck at all, resulting in a blank planchet. Blank planchets for cents and even silver dollars are known. I once received a blank cent in change. There are also clipped planchets, coins missing a percentage of the metal. Large clips, small clips, irregular clips, and even multiple clips can happen.
A coin can be struck more than once, resulting in a multiple strike. More than one image, maybe three or four, can be seen on such a coin. Value increases with the number of strikes, and a visible date makes such a coin even more valuable.
Broadstrike coins were struck outside of the retaining collar. These pieces are larger than the normal strikes.
A die break can occur where a piece of it breaks off. When a coin is struck from a damaged die a major break can result in what is popularly called a cud, a section of unstruck metal. Die cracks are seen on many coins, including some large cents with raised metal from a die crack all around the obverse stars.
Coins struck on the wrong planchet, an off-metal strike, are among the most valuable error coins. Probably the best known of these is the 1943 copper cent and its brother coin, the 1944 steel cent. During the switch to copper-nickel clad coinage in 1965, a few off-metal strikes were made of the dime, quarter and half dollar. Perhaps a few are still out there in circulation.
Many other types of errors can be found. Error collectors identify other kinds of mistakes, some more subtle than the dramatic kinds mentioned here. Error coins are discovered fairly often. Mintages of these pieces can be quite low. Error coins can be found in change, in bank rolls, or in bags. I have heard of collectors buying a bag of quarters, searching, and finding a number of error coins.
New types of error coins can appear. Some of the recent Presidential dollars lack edge lettering. Some have edge lettering that is garbled, struck multiple times, or have edge inscriptions from a different year. The edge is, indeed, the third side of the coin, and is subject to error strikes as well as the obverse and reverse.
Specialists can collect error coins in many different ways. A collector can pick a favorite kind of error, such as clipped planchets, and save as many of these as he can find. Off-center coins can be collected by their clock positions; special holders have been made to accommodate such a collection. Wrong-metal strikes are scarce; even one of these coins would make a great addition to an error collection.
Some collectors want any statehood quarter with an error. I have heard of a statehood quarter error collectors’ club, and once saw a woman enter a coin shop with a misstruck New Hampshire quarter. She left the shop quite a few dollars richer, and perhaps learned of a new collecting specialty.
Error coins are for the collector who desires something really different, who knows a thing or two about the way coins are made, and who enjoys the thrill of discovery.
This article was originally printed in Numismatic News. >> Subscribe today.
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