Skip to main content

Rail Splitter cent shows doubled clash marks

Chris Kukor of Wisconsin sent in an interesting 2009 Formative Years (Rail Splitter) cent with doubled clash marks on the obverse of moderate strength and a rather subdued single clash mark on the reverse.

Chris Kukor of Wisconsin sent in an interesting 2009 Formative Years (Rail Splitter) cent with doubled clash marks on the obverse of moderate strength and a rather subdued single clash mark on the reverse.


A clashed die variety occurs when a feeder/ejector mechanism fails to place a planchet between the dies and the coinage press cycles anyway. The dies strike each other, often leaving impressions from one or both dies to the opposing dies due to the mishap.

At one time, I used to advise that coins that showed significantly varying strengths between the clashes on the obverse and reverse were most probably due to variances in the hardness of the dies, suggesting that the softer of the two dies would take on the stronger clash marks and the harder die, lesser or no clash marks.

However, several years ago I was advised by a Mint spokesman that it had more to do with the geometry of the designs than die hardness.

What’s interesting here is that every time we get a new coin design, clash marks vary greatly from what we’ve seen before. For example, the traditional Lincoln Memorial reverse dies transferred clash marks to the obverses that were largely a reflection of the columns and bays found within the Lincoln Memorial building (along with other details on stronger examples). The effect was such that clash marks from the edges of columns or bays on the reverse to the obverse often made Lincoln appear to be behind bars and thus they were often nickname “Prisoner Cents,” (a term that thankfully has lost favor within the organized error-variety hobby in the last couple of decades as more technically accurate terms have tended to replaced often misleading nicknames).

Clashes from new designs often force variety specialists to create overlays of the obverse onto the reverse, or visa versa, to take the guesswork out of exactly what the clash represents.

To do this, I first take the image I plan to use as the lower layer (either the obverse or the reverse depending on what I’m trying to demonstrate) and then invert it 180 degrees and horizontally flip it in an image-editing program like Adobe Photoshop. I then strip the color out of the image by setting the saturation level at -100 in order to create some contrast between it and the top image in which I will maintain the color. Then, I set the opacity level of the second design to about 60 percent and clone it on top of the other image. The top overlay design will be normal without the inversion and horizontal flip. This creates the orientation that the dies have to each other when they clash into each other, thus allowing for the recreation of the effects of clashes within composite artwork. These are very exacting and allow one to see which elements caused the offending marks.

In this case, my first overlay allows us to determine that the marks from the Formative Years design transferred to the obverse are from the folds in Lincoln’s shirt. The clash marks on the obverse run from below Lincoln’s chin to his bow tie. It’s also interesting to note that this is a double clash. These occur when one clash occurs and the smashing or clashing of the dies into each other knocks the original alignment of the dies out of kilter either horizontally or rotationally (or both). If a second clash occurs, the marks will show a distance away from the first marks (to a greater or lesser degree). Double clashes are not particularly unusual and triples and quadruples and even more are known but of course – the more the merrier.


On the reverse of this coin, the clash is less prominent, but shows in my second overlay as originating from the back of Lincoln’s neck and collar (from the obverse) running from near the top of the handle of the rail splitter mallet a short distance to the northwest. The overlays were created from images courtesy of the U.S. Mint.

Clashed dies of light to moderate strength rarely add any significant value to a coin, keeping them in the 50-cent to $2 range but are interesting to find and collect and are of educational value to those who are getting started in the error-variety hobby. Clashes on limited issues such as this one may command more. Exceptionally strong clashes on any coin design can command relatively significant premiums.

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 collectable 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 60c postage to P.O. Box 760232, Lathrup Village, MI 48076 or by contacting him via email at An educational image gallery may be viewed on his website at