Richard Giedroyc sent in photos to Numismatic News of a 2009 Formative Years (Rail Splitter) Lincoln cent that shows a rather pronounced die crack that extends from Lincoln’s left boot through the second “U” in PLURIBUS at 6 o’clock on the reverse.
According to Giedroyc, Jason Rodgers of the rare coin firm HCC Inc. in Holland, Ohio, reported encountering more than 300 examples of the coin, presumably while searching through rolls of the cents. Rodgers indicated that they were all of the same die stage with the crack of identical length and strength on all of the coins. He felt this was an indication that the die may have broken in this manner right from the start of the run and that it was taken out of service before the die progressed to later stages.
In fact, during a tour of the Philadelphia Mint floor that I took in 1998, a Mint spokesman told me that a die can crack after it has been tempered and is just sitting on a bench waiting to be processed further and put into service before it has even struck a single coin.
George Graham of Maryland and a number of other collectors have been noticing a preponderance of die chips on the “C” of CENT on the reverse design of the 2009 Formative Years cents, along with other die chips and cracks in other areas.
These reports demonstrate a point that I’ve made repeatedly over the years, which is that many coin designs have a natural tendency to crack, break or chip on the dies in certain areas over and over again while the same types of defects may occur less frequently or rarely on other parts of the design. These areas of common breakage are due to what we call design weaknesses, which are inherent to many designs in one area or another on coinage from all countries and eras.
His first example shows a minor die chip on “C” of CENT and two die breaks on the end of log that Lincoln is resting upon. Die chips and breaks on the end of the log have been the second most common area of breakage on this design that have been reported to me thus far.
His next two coins show a larger die chip on the “C” of CENT with these coins representing two different stages of specimens from the same die. On the later stage, the chip remains about the same or identical, but a small die crack extends upward from the top of the “C” while a number of die flow lines and a pebbly orange peel surfaces (caused by extensive use of the die) appear throughout the fields as is easily seen throughout the areas surrounding ONE CENT shown on the later stage specimen.
However, both coins share a bit of die deterioration doubling on the right side of the “V” of designer-sculptor Charles L. Vickers initials. This suggests that the earlier die stage was probably already technically what specialists would call a mid-die-state coin while the later stage was in a late die state. For clarity, I should note that the other raised areas in and around Vickers’ initials are plating pimples or blisters and have nothing to do with the die defects.
Graham also sent in a fourth cent that does not contain an error or variety, but rather a form of damage that I frequently get questions about. It is a circular damage that in many places has scraped the copper plating away from the surface of the design exposing the zinc core. This type of damage is frequently found on what collectors call “end-of-roll” coins. When coins are wrapped by automated coin wrapping machines, the final process is for the machine to roll the edge of the wrapper inward on top of itself several times down to the surface of the coin in order to tightly secure the coins within. This process sometimes creates the circular damage that we see here. It is more often restricted to areas close to the rim as we see below the ERICA of AMERICA, but often enough it imparts damage in other areas as we see on the end of the log and on the “O” and “C” of ONE CENT.
To demonstrate another example of both common areas of breakage and coin wrapping machine damage, Jim Dawson of Florida sent in a 2009-P Puerto Rico quarter that shows die breaks and chips along the base of Washington’s bust. This area of breakage on this coin design can only be described as exceedingly common and it is my guess that the majority of obverse dies for the states and territorial quarters series break in a similar manner in their mid-to-late die stages.
Interestingly, we can also see some coin wrapping machine scrapes that have damaged the tops of some of these die breaks and the lower “R” of TRUST. The red arrows point out the coin wrapping machine scrapes while the black arrows point out the undamaged areas of the die breaks/cracks.
There is also a die break between the letters of IN of IN GOD WE TRUST. This is not as common an area of breakage as at the base of the bust, but is common enough.
Die chips, breaks and cracks rarely add any significant monetary value to a coin, but are interesting to find and collect and are of educational value to those who are getting started in the error-variety hobby as they help teach us how dies deteriorate through use.
They are also an interesting tool in leaning how to determine the die state of a coin, which, in essence, is the act of grading the die similar to that of grading a coin.
Determining die state is a very important factor to variety collectors who normally seek out the earliest die states possible since these normally show aberrations such as doubled dies and Repunched Mintmarks stronger and sharper than later die states and the coins just generally look more attractive.
Ken Potter is the official attributer of world doubled dies for the Combined Organizations of Numismatic Error Collectors of America and for the National Collectors Association of Die Doubling. He also privately lists other collectible variety types on both U.S. and world coins in the Variety Coin Register. He is a regular columnist in Numismatic News’ sister publication, World Coin News, where he pens the Visiting Varieties column. More information on either of the clubs or how to get a coin listed in the Variety Coin Register may be obtained by sending a long, self-addressed envelope with 60 cents postage to P.O. Box 760232, Lathrup Village, MI 48076, or by contacting him via e-mail at KPotter256@aol.com. An educational image gallery may be viewed on his Web site at www.koinpro.com.