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Coin mistakes in eye of beholder

What U.S. coins have been issued on which there is a mistake in the design?


If you count faulty dies causing the mistake then mistakes start in 1796 with the Liberty large cent. If not, then the many improperly depicted Indians on everything from the Indian cent to the Indian $10 eagle are next. The legends on the Standing Liberty quarter and Peace silver dollar were meant to depict a V rather than a U, although many people think these are design mistakes. Likewise, allegorical designs on many of our commemorative coins are exactly that – allegorical, not design mistakes. For those of you who worry about how many angels can stand on a pin, there is the nickel on which Monticello appears. There should be six steps, not five as are considered to be complete on some issues.

Why on the older coins are there no denominations stamped on them?

Denominations have appeared on U.S. copper coins from their inception. No denominations on silver and gold followed the British practice of the time. The denomination first appears on U.S. specie coins beginning in 1807 as the Draped Bust design for silver and the Capped Bust design for gold coins were being replaced. It became a standard part of the design elements after this time, but just as we continue to place a date and mintmark on coins today, the necessity of providing this information is questionable.

What was the original reasoning for placing dates and mintmarks on coins?

Our fiat money today includes base metal coins without any value based on the metal composition. Specie coin was meant to have an intrinsic value due to metal composition. This metal content needed to be ensured to be consistent. The date and mintmark identified the origins of the coins if there was reason to question the metal composition when a sampling of them was tested each year.

Is this why Spanish colonial American coins include not only a date and mintmark, but the assayer’s initials as well?

There was good reason to identify the assayer. During the 1640s King Philip IV of Spain dispatched a priest and member of the Inquisition, Francisco Nestares Marin, to the Potosi Mint in what is today Bolivia due to debased coinage emissions. Coins were meant to be 93 parts silver, seven parts copper, but were being issued at 60-70 parts silver, 30-40 parts copper. Marin arrested 50 people, including mint assayer Juan Ramerez de Arellano and former mayor Francisco Gomez de la Rocha, most of whom he hanged.

I was recently learning about Hobo nickels. When did retooling coin designs become popular?

People have likely ‘improved’ on the design on coins ever since coins were invented. However in modern history the first retooled coins I recollect are the French copper 1850s centime denominated coins on which Napoleon III is portrayed as a vampire. After he lost the Franco-Prussian War, he was depicted in a Prussian helmet. About the same time some U.S. coins on which Seated Liberty appears were retooled to depict her as sitting on a chamber pot. We can thank Bertram “Bert” Wiegand and George Washington “Bo” Hughes among others for alterations known as Hobo nickels beginning about 1913.

What is an ideal magnification power to use when examining coins?

In general, 5X to 7X appears to be popular when using a magnifying glass, and 7X to 10X when using a stereo microscope.

I found a 1934 wheat cent while detecting. The edge/rim have grooves on it, not like normal pennies. The reverse has the same notches. Under a magnifying glass some longer notches go into the “E Pluribus Unum,” even on to the wheat itself. I would like to get some information on it.

Without physically examining the coin it isn’t possible to say this for certain, but it is likely the grooves were added by someone after the coin left the mint rather than the coin being an odd piece altered for some unknown purpose at the mint. Since you indicated some of the notches are longer than are others it appears the notches were likely added by hand rather than by using a machine.

This article was originally printed in Numismatic News. >> Subscribe today.

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