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Silver proof yields varieties

Parade of finds in the wake of Wisconsin quarter leaf varieties.

Thanks to the hobby and national press along with television and radio news coverage earlier this year, the entire nation was sent scrambling on a hunt for the now well-known 2004-D Wisconsin state quarters with two different variations of leaf-like die dents (or what some call die gouges) in the field around an ear of corn.


The ear of corn is a part of the design located in the upper right quadrant of the coin’s state-theme reverse. These die dents were long, narrow and curved, which to some made the coins appear to exhibit a high or low extra leaf. One of these is nonsensically sprouting from a block of cheese on the so-called “high leaf” variety while it is oddly piercing through the center of a corn husk and out into the field on the so-called “low leaf” variety.

Enough hoopla was created about these coins, which were at first alleged by some to contain design changes – flat-out denied by the U.S. Mint – to prompt some folks to start looking for die variations on other issues including on proof coins.

A parade of finds followed with an array of nicknames equally as fanciful as the “high” and “low” leaf designations were to the Wisconsin quarters. These were minor variations of a sort that are typically found on business-strike coins every year and of which a few random picks make a minor splash in the hobby news today – only because they are current and of educational interest – but are invariably forgotten tomorrow. Interestingly, while oodles of die cracks, die chips, die breaks, die dents, die gouges, die clashes, etc., were found on business strikes, nothing was found on proof coins except die cracks.

That is, until now!

Vincent Burke of California found a significantly large, curved, almost horse hoof-shaped die dent on the rear hindquarter of the bison on a 2005-S silver proof Kansas quarter. He found it in a complete 11-piece silver proof set.

Die dents (and the closely related die gouges) are common on business strikes and rarely given much more than scant attention by die variety specialists.

Even on proof coins minor dents and gouges are normally ignored. It isn’t until they are of significant size and/or of unusual shape that anybody even takes passing notice of them on denominations of recent vintage. In fact, up until the large quantity Wisconsin quarters with die dents were discovered in numbers great enough for promoters to market, the type had been outright ignored by collectors and catalogers alike on the Washington quarter series in both the business-strike and proof formats.

Nevertheless, in this case the hoof-shaped die dent is several times larger in the area it encompasses than on either of the leaf-like die dents on the Wisconsin quarters. In fact, it is the largest die dent I have ever seen on a Washington quarter and possibly on any of the current denominations. If the Wisconsin die dents are as important as some suggest, then this one is even more important because it is significantly larger in size, far deeper into the die and, most importantly, it is on a silver proof coin that should have been inspected and prevented from escaping the Mint.

How important the variation is and exactly what it represents is open to contention among specialists. I believe it is an erroneous die dent while at least one other person suggests it may have been punched in. All specialists who have seen it so far, including Tom DeLorey, John Wexler, James Wiles, Jose Cortez and Mike Diamond, expressed the opinion that it appeared as though the variation was on the die before it was put through the proofing process to impart the frost to the central designs.

The fact that the frosted finish is perfect, without any breaks in the area of the die dent, tends to confirm these suspicions. It suggests that the die could have been proofed, placed into service and used for an entire run of as many as 2,000 to 3,000 or more pieces that are out there assembled in silver proof sets for collectors to find. Of course, it may also be found on the clad issue of this coin if the dies were also used for such, but with mintages as low as they are from proof dies, it is questionable as to whether or not they would have been shifted from striking silver planchets to the clad format.

Since the aforementioned Wisconsin quarters were found early last year, searchers have found other curved die dents on other denominations and from other mints. The 2004-D Wisconsin quarters were struck in Denver from dies made in the Denver Mint die shop. Other finds include at least two 2004 Lincoln cents that also exhibit curved die dents, which were produced in Philadelphia from the “Mother Mint’s” own die shop. These dents surround the statue of a seated Lincoln to a greater or lesser degree. The statue is found within the center of the Lincoln Memorial on the reverse. These cents are shown courtesy of Tom DeLorey and were first reported by Billy Crawford, who found the one with the half circle in the lower section of the Lincoln statue, while the other was found by John Wexler and exhibits a more complete circle. The latest find on the Kansas quarter is of course a San Francisco Mint product but the dies were made in Philadelphia.

It is my opinion that finds of curved die dents found on the products of more than just the Denver Mint undermines claims that somebody at Denver caused them to occur intentionally on the 2004-D Wisconsin quarters. For us to believe this to be true, we’d have to believe that somebody at the Philadelphia Mint is like-minded and has been “punching” dies there also.

Considering that one of those dies ended up in San Francisco before it was even put into service makes one question the theory of persons creating varieties with intent, and suggests that this is most probably not the case here or with the Wisconsin quarters or the 2004 Lincoln cents.

They are all most probably die dents created in error due to poor handling or mechanical malfunction. Still, we will never really know for sure unless more information is forthcoming.

If this new variety is to catch on, we hope that it could occur without the use of flashy nicknames. Nicknames often suggest intended design changes even when they are not; they are most often used as a smoke screen to hide the true nature of a variation. If they are referred to as something like “Hoof in Side” or similar, we hope it is along with a clear explanation as to how it occurred, or referred to like “Hoof Die Dent.”

The 2005 silver proof sets are still available from the U.S. Mint at $37.95 per 11-coin set, which includes all five 2005-S state quarters, the Lincoln cent, both Westward Journey nickels, the Roosevelt dime, Kennedy half dollar and Sacagawea dollar. The 50 state quarter silver proof set (offering the five 2005-S quarters only) is available for $23.95. They may be ordered from the Mint’s Web site at or by phone at (800) USA-MINT.

Ken Potter pens the monthly Visiting Varieties column for Numismatic News’ sister publication World Coin News. He 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.
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
An educational image gallery may be viewed on his Web site at