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Unattributed coins lead to surprises

This column is going to be short, sweet and all about some of the surprises you may find as you examine coins closely. That’s what I have been doing for 40 years at the various grading services where I have worked. My job is very rewarding. I wish I could own every neat coin that crosses the stage of my stereo microscope but that’s impossible. So I must be satisfied by finding unusual coins or unattributed varieties sent in by our customers. Imagine the surprise both dealers and collectors get when their coin is slabbed and they discover it is more desirable than they thought.

Although third-party grading services have been an asset for inexperienced collectors, I’ll bet that slabbed coins have taken some of the fun out of collecting. In the good old days, a collector could sit in front of rows of red boxes stuffed with coins at a show or in a dealer’s shop and find quite a haul of interesting varieties plus undergraded or undervalued specimens. As long as you made some purchases, everyone was happy. Now, many dealers have just three cases of slabbed coins for sale at their table.

Since a majority of slabbed coins have reached their maximum grade, that narrows most searches down to a hunt for interesting or unattributed varieties. In my experience, one good place to look for unattributed coin varieties is in the slabs of the two largest grading services. While their graders and finalizers are certainly top experts at authenticating and grading, in many cases varieties that are unattributed by the submitter can be easily missed.

Coin Grading Basics

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Raw coins are the best place to look for interesting coins. Some varieties to look for are the doubled dies and repunched mintmarks that are not listed in the Red Book. A good place to learn about these coins is on the Internet. There are also numerous specialty books that collectors can use such as Rick Snow’s series on Indian Head cents and The Best of the Washington Quarter Doubled Die Varieties by Wexler and Flynn. I’ll ask the authors of other specialty books I use every day to forgive me their omission for lack of space.

Let’s look at some of the interesting coins seen recently at ICG. The coin in Figure 1 is a doubled die Lincoln cent we found for a customer who had no idea what he had. For practice, using a computer, see if you can discover the date of this coin on your own. You can try looking for doubled-die obverse Lincoln cents on a search engine. Otherwise, the CONECA website run by Dr. James Wiles is a good place to start your search. Hint: the coin is dated between 1910 and 1945.

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Foreign coins are a great source for varieties such as overstrikes, doubled dies (coins struck once with dies that are doubled) and double-struck coins (struck twice). Figure 2 shows a coin that was struck twice by the same die. After the first strike, the coin looked normal. Then the dies or the struck coin rotated slightly in the press before it was struck again.
Parts of the raised area of the first strike were crushed by the flat field of the die (in the “new” rotated position) when it was struck again. Note the flat outline of the letters visible in the coin’s field. The doubling on the raised parts of the letters (check the right upright of the “M”) resulted when flat parts of the original field filled the die during the second strike. A very neat find for a collector but you must be looking for it. Hint: Since they are struck twice, many proof coins exhibit this characteristic to a lesser extent.

I’ve saved the best for last. The coin in Figure 3 also came to us unattributed from a dealer. It is a Connecticut cent struck on a Nova Constellatio copper. In this case, an already struck coin of a different type was used as a planchet to make the Connecticut piece. The rays from the original (over-struck) coin can be seen in the center of the micrograph where an ear should be. Sometimes it is difficult to see the outlines of an overstruck coin on lower grade examples. This coin is a poster child for a surprising find. The dealer who sent this to us is in for a $urprise when it’s returned. As for me, the coin is priceless because I got to experience the thrill of the discovery. Examine all your coins closely – good luck in your search.

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