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Educate yourself about errors

Are you stupid? I don’t think so, but over the years I have made some observations about human behavior.

The new Washington plain-edge dollar error is a wonderful discovery. It gets people looking at the new coins in hopes of making a marketing killing. One fellow has already showed me a check for over $4,100 that he earned by selling a group of plain-edge Washington dollars to a dealer.

That kind of money is enough to gain anyone’s attention – and it has. But that also is a problem.
When a valuable error is discovered, people look at their coins. They then notice other things that are a little odd or different. If a plain-edge coin can be worth so much money, why not the mysterious line on another dollar that kind of looks like a spear? Why not a line caused by a die crack that looks like a crease across the forehead of the first President?

Why not, indeed.

At root is the significance test. Most of these anomalies, which the numismatic hobby calls errors, fail this test, but when coins can be posted in online auctions, a plausible story can earn a profit while actual research or learning is just too much trouble especially when it leads to finding out why a coin has no extra value.

The recent run of postings of so-called upside down edge lettering got so much online momentum despite repeated news stories that they are not errors that the U.S. Mint had to jump in and issue a consumer alert to inform would-be buyers that the lettering is random, with roughly half up and half down.

Are the letter orientations on the Washington coins collectible? Absolutely. The difference is notable. The Professional Coin Grading Service announced today that it is slabbing both and correctly advised collectors that neither is inherently worth any extra money over the other.

For errors in general, keep in mind that most coins have something wrong with them if you look hard enough. They are the products of the Industrial Age and they are prone to industrial quality control problems.

Clever names for errors usually mean that the error is not significant enough to stand on its own. It needs a marketing push. Don’t fall for it.

I ask again, “Are you stupid?” If you are not educating yourself about what makes some errors valuable and most others valueless over time, the answer might be yes. Grading services want to help you. The hobby’s error experts do, too. But you also have to want to help yourself. For more information, visit www.pcgs.com

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2 Responses to Educate yourself about errors

  1. ERRORIST says:

    Surely the Vams aren’t stupid! Many names were given to them because of die cracks! Why should modern coinage be different?

    VAM-1 is always the normal die state for a specific date/mint and has no distinguishing characteristics. Die varieties that can be distinguished from each date/mint’s VAM-1 are subsequently numbered incrementally (VAM-2, VAM-3, etc.) Sometimes a letter follows the number, i.e. VAM-1A. A "lettered" VAM represents a later stage of the numbered die that has a die gouge, major die crack, pitting, die clash, or any other result of a post-die-production occurence that can be shown to have changed the die. Like VAM numbers, letters are also assigned in a one-up fashion.


  2. Although we certainly had people who were taking advantage of the naive by capitalizing on the "upside down edge lettering error" (which is, of course, not an error at all, as stated above,) the U.S. Mint really exacerbated this problem by telling people who called their 800 number that upside down edge lettering WAS an error! I was told this myself, several times, and efforts to get a supervisor to try to clear up the situation where unsuccessful. I eventually got ahold of a U.S. Mint executive who was able to get the situation corrected.

    For awhile. As soon as the email reports of people being told this erroneous information had finally stopped, they began again en masse suddenly. I called the Mint’s 800 number again, and sure enough, the telemarketers were back at it, claiming the upside down edge lettering was a mistake!

    The U.S. Mint telemarketing workers were giving people this erroneous information for as long as 5 to 6 weeks after the release of the coins, so it’s no wonder there was so much confusion!

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