Older press models used by the U.S. Mint (Bliss, primarily) often
housed two or four die pairs operating in unison. Adjacent striking
chambers in these “dual” and “quad” presses were so close together
that a single well-placed planchet could straddle the gap between them
and receive two simultaneous off-center strikes. We call these errors
“saddle strikes,” in reference to the shape of the unstruck interval
between the two off-center strikes.
The illustrated undated Lincoln cent composed of copper-plated
zinc and minted some time between 1982 and 2001 displays a conspicuous
hump between the two off-center strikes. The unstruck portion of the
coin buckled upward as it was horizontally compressed between the two
expanding off-center strikes. The hump is convex along the axis
connecting the two off-center strikes and concave along the orthogonal
axis. The shape is reminiscent of a horse’s saddle.
Rarely, the hump can buckle toward the anvil die if the collar is
depressed well below the plane of the anvil die face. The hump is not
always present, but fortunately it is just one of several diagnostics
that can be used to identify a saddle strike, including:
Lack of a “slide zone”: Since it is trapped between two adjacent
die pairs, a planchet can’t “squirt out” from between the dies.
Therefore, unlike a conventional off-center strike, there is little or
no development of a “slide zone” between the edge of the die-struck
field and the unstruck portion of the planchet.
Telescoping of one off-center strike: On some saddle strikes, one
of the off-center strikes is telescoped beneath the unstruck portion
of the planchet. This most often occurs when that off-center strike is
uniface (struck against an underlying planchet) or when the hump
Consistent gap width: The minimum distance between the two
off-center strikes is very consistent in any particular time period.
In the illustrated copper-plated zinc cent, the minimum gap between
the two die-struck fields on the reverse face is about 13.2 mm.
Lack of collar scar: For reasons that are not entirely clear to
me, saddle strikes seldom show a collar scar on the face struck by the
Orientation of adjacent dies: In any particular time period, the
orientation of the adjacent dies is quite consistent. The obverse face
of the illustrated copper-plated zinc cent shows the head-to-head
orientation that prevailed from the late 1970s until early in the 21st century.
Saddle strikes have only been observed in cents, 5-cent coins and
dimes. From this, we can conclude that dual and quad presses were
never used to strike higher denominations.
Through the years, saddle strikes have mutely testified to changes
in press design, die setup and die orientation.
The earliest saddle strike I’m aware of is a 1949-D Lincoln cent.
The obverse face shows a unique base-to-base orientation.
Very few saddle strikes are known though the 1950s. In the 1960s,
they become much more common and almost always show a head-to-head
orientation. The copper-alloy cent illustrated here was probably
struck in the early 1960s. It shows a relatively narrow gap between
the two off-center strikes. This narrow gap is maintained until the
Atypical die orientations appear every so often. Shown here is a
1963-D Jefferson 5-cent coin with a head-to-base orientation that is
unusual for the period. The image comes courtesy of Alfonso Chio.
A head-to-base orientation became the norm in the early and middle
1970s. The head-to-head orientation was restored toward the end of
Almost all saddle strikes were produced with the obverse die
acting as the hammer die. However, a few copper-plated zinc cents are
known to have been struck by inverted dies (an anvil die acting as
hammer die). Two can be assigned to a particular year by virtue of a
preceding normal strike. One — a 2000-D Lincoln cent — was described
in the Sept. 13, 2010, Coin World. The only other dated
example is a 1996 Lincoln cent. An inverted setup is assumed for that
example because the hump buckled toward the reverse die and both
off-center strikes show a uniface obverse.
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