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Professional Life cents show flaws

After a major lapse in time, I am again getting reports on major die crack varieties found on proof coins. The latest two are both on the Professional Life Lincoln cent reverse and were found in August.

After a major lapse in time, I am again getting reports on major die crack varieties found on proof coins. The latest two are both on the Professional Life Lincoln cent reverse and were found in August.


Thomas Baalman of Kansas reported the first one to Numismatic News on Aug. 6. It features a major die crack that runs from center of the bushes at front right corner of the old Illinois capitol building into the field, through the “T” of CENT and the rim. He ordered two of the regular 18-coin proof sets from the Mint and found one in each set. I listed it in the Variety Coin Register for the date, Mint and type as VCR#1/DCR#1.

John Frye of Kentucky found another major die crack on a proof version of this cent while searching through three 18-coin silver proof sets that he received from the Mint in early August and found one with a spike-like die crack that runs from the center of the bushes to the right of Lincoln down into the field and through Lincoln’s left leg, (viewer’s right), the tip of his right shoe, through the left vertical of the “N” of CENT and the rim. He found it on Aug. 17 when he decided to check over the three clad and three silver sets that he owned. It was the only one he found out of the six sets. He later posted news of his find on the Internet coin forum, Coin Community, and learned that another collector within 20 miles of him had also received one. I’ve listed it as VCR#2/DCR#2.

While there have been few sales from which to establish solid values for major die cracks on proof coins, I’ve previously estimated that pre-2009 normal-design cents could fetch $150 to $300. Because this is a special Bicentennial design, either variety could fetch even more.

While die cracks on business-strike coinage intended for commerce are generally considered common and elicit little collector interest, any prominent die crack on a proof coin is considered collectible as they are rarely encountered, though more have been showing up in the past decade than ever.

However, it should also be noted that fewer have been found in the past several years . The peak years for this type of error are 2003, 2004 and 2005 with seven, 10 and nine major die break proof varieties reported for each of those years respectively. In contrast, there are only two known to me for 2006, one for 2007 and three for 2008. Interestingly, major die cracks on proof coins are known from every year from 1998 through 2009 except for 2001.

Die cracks are inherent to the use of die steel and occur due to a variety of reasons. The extreme striking pressure required to produce proof coins is the most probable reason for die breakage on these issues. Other factors such as faulty die steel, improper heat treatment (of the dies), etc., may be factors. It may also be an indication that a die has been in service too long and is starting to break up, though this cause is usually associated with other die wear problems and die crack progressions that we do not see here.

Other causes of a mechanical nature are: the striking of errors, in particular error types that involve stacks of more than one planchet (or planchets and/or coins) struck together by a die pair, or off-center and double-strike errors. Additionally, improper die set-ups, such as tilted dies, loose dies, etc., have been identified, as causes of die breakage.

Each proof coin requires a visual quality inspection at the Mint before being placed on a tray for further processing, or being rejected and segregated from those that pass inspection when flawed. Coins with die cracks as prominent as these should have been easily spotted and set to the side for destruction.

This author believes that die cracks on proof dies are routine, but coins from them escaping the Mint is not routine, even with the recent increase in incidence. One cause of the greater frequency of these coins reaching collectors may be the great increase in collector coin production since the inception of the state quarter program and other programs that followed. This greater demand for production of very large numbers of designs appears as though it may have taken its toll and resulted in more errors of this type escaping the watchful eye of the Mint.

I’d like to stress the fact that die cracks on general business-strike coins made for circulation are exceedingly common and rarely elicit any significant collector interest or value. They are the norm and rarely are considered significant varieties or errors by most advanced error-variety specialists. However, they can be fun to find and collect as long as one does not expect great financial gain. They can also be educational to the budding numismatist who takes the time to study them.

The significant major die cracks highlighted in this series are of the type that run from within the central design all the way through the rim to the very edge of the die. Such die cracks are often deep and actually show a significant crack along the shank of the die.

We’d like to thank Numismatic News readers who have participated in this ongoing hunt for “Spiked Head” and other major die cracks and encourage them to continue. Please do not report upon minor die cracks on business strikes as we have been swamped with such reports and do not have time to respond.

Collectors finding any of these die crack proof coins or other errors are requested to report them to me by e-mail at, or at the address below. Always write first before submitting coins.

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 writes 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 61 cents postage to P.O. Box 760232, Lathrup Village, MI 48076, or by contacting him via e-mail at An educational image gallery may be viewed on his Web site at