The reverse face of this 1944 cent shows a second strike strongly offset toward the southwest. Second-strike design elements on the obverse face show a counterclockwise rotation but no offset.
A new example of a coin showing horizontal misalignment of the anvil die invites competing explanations as to the cause.
Because the neck of the anvil die is tightly confined by the collar, significant lateral shifts of that die can only occur if the collar breaks apart or breaks free of its moorings. Coins struck in these circumstances are necessarily broadstruck (struck out of collar), struck inside a split and widened collar, or show evidence of a collar break (collar cud) of 180 arc degrees or more.
The largest recorded misalignments of the anvil die appear with a 1984 Lincoln cent that was struck within a broken and tilted collar and a series of broadstruck 2000-P Virginia quarter dollars (see the columns dated Sept. 27, 2010, and Oct. 31, 2011.)
A new candidate was recently sent to me by Matt Dinger of Lost Dutchman Rare Coins in Indianapolis (www.ldrcoins.com). The first strike delivered to this 1944 Lincoln cent was perfectly normal. The second strike was out of collar while the anvil (reverse) die appears to have been horizontally misaligned. But as we will see, appearances can be deceiving (or at least ambiguous).
Horizontal misalignments on the second strike are well documented for the hammer die, but are still quite rare. Several examples have appeared in previous Clearinghouse columns (May 19, 2008; May 23, 2011). The illustrated 1966 Lincoln cent serves as a representative example. The first strike has a partial collar error while the second strike was struck entirely out of collar by a horizontally misaligned hammer (obverse) die. In both strikes the reverse face is rotated about 20 degrees relative to the obverse face.
The second-strike design on the reverse face of the 1944 cent is laterally offset toward the southwest. Maximum lateral displacement amounts to 1.3 millimeters, as measured by an ocular micrometer. No evidence of a lateral shift appears the obverse face; the perfectly centered obverse die generated only radial expansion. This caused the outermost portions of peripheral first-strike elements to protrude slightly beyond the second-strike elements.
A simple explanation involving a misaligned anvil die is weakened by the presence of a rotated design on the obverse face. Second strike elements are rotated about 5 degrees counterclockwise relative to first-strike elements. This could reflect a clockwise rotation of the coin between strikes or possibly a counterclockwise rotation of the obverse die between strikes. No rotation is seen where the second U of UNUM is located on the reverse. This letter is located near the midpoint of the misalignment, where any assessment of rotation must take place. In the absence of rotation, second-strike elements located near the ends of the exposed crescent of first-strike design will nevertheless appear offset, and in opposite directions.
Multiple working hypotheses
With multiple elements potentially in motion, it’s possible to come up with several different scenarios to explain the features of this coin. Rotational and horizontal movements of the hammer die, anvil die, and coin can be arranged in various combinations to get the same outcome. The first three scenarios presented assume a misalignment of the anvil die.
Scenario 1: Both dies were unstable so that the hammer die rotated counterclockwise at the same time the anvil die was shifting laterally.
Scenario 2: The coin rotated clockwise after the first strike while the anvil die coincidentally underwent a rotation that precisely matched the coin’s movement.
Scenario 3: The coin temporarily stuck to the anvil die as the latter rotated, but separated from the die as the latter shifted laterally.
Scenario 4: It was actually the hammer die that experienced the misalignment. The second-strike obverse design appears centered (and the reverse design uncentered) because the coin coincidentally moved in the same direction as the hammer die and covered the same distance. While all this was happening, the hammer die also underwent a counterclockwise rotation.
All of these are low-probability events, but none are impossible. Various kinds of die alignment errors — horizontal misalignment, vertical misalignment, pivot, rotation — are known to co-occur. This should not be surprising, as an unstable die or die assembly certainly has the potential to execute complex movements.
The co-occurrence of horizontal misalignments and off-center strikes has also been recorded, although these movements should theoretically be independent of each other. In some cases, like the Jefferson 5-cent coin described in the Nov. 28, 2011, Collectors’ Clearinghouse, the off-center planchet moved in the same direction as a horizontally misaligned hammer (obverse) die. In other cases I’ve seen, the coin and die travelled in opposite directions.
As to which scenario is most likely, I would give a halfhearted nod to scenario 3 because it involves the fewest assumptions, coincidences and separate movements.
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