Off-center in two directions? There's a simple explanation

Published : 11/19/11
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When it comes to errors, appearances can sometimes be deceiving — or outright confusing.

Confusion was certainly the order of the day when I was contacted by Adriel Toth about a 1999-D Jefferson 5-cent coin he had recently discovered in a $500 case of “nickel” rolls obtained from his local bank. The coin seemed to show an off-center strike in two opposing directions. That, of course, is impossible, since a planchet misfeed can only be in one direction.

When Toth looked at the obverse face he figured he had a misaligned die error, or more specifically, a horizontal misalignment of the obverse (hammer) die. However, when he flipped the coin over, the design was offset in the opposite direction. The reverse face showed an unstruck crescent on the left side while the obverse face showed an unstruck crescent on the right side.

In his search for an answer, Toth first had a buddy of his upload images of the coin to the Error Coin Information Exchange (, an online forum that I’ve hosted for the past 10 years. I floated a few possible explanations and invited Toth to send me the coin.

Upon close inspection, I determined that the coin’s unusual appearance is actually due to a combination of two errors: 1) a major horizontal misalignment of the obverse (hammer) die toward the left, and 2) an off-center strike also toward the left.

The actual misalignment must have been around 2.4 millimeters — greater than 10 percent of the diameter of the planchet. The off-center strike positioned the planchet about a millimeter to the left of center. This created an unstruck crescent on the left side of the reverse and reduced the perceived size of the misalignment on the obverse by the equivalent distance (1 millimeter). The coin was struck completely outside the collar, but did not expand much. Its average diameter is 21.43 millimeters versus the official mean value of 21.21 millimeters.

The coin shows a third error — a vertical misalignment (tilted die error). The obverse die was angled up on the left side. This left Jefferson’s face weakly-struck along with the motto IN GOD WE TRUST. On the reverse, the left side of Monticello and the word UNITED are weakly-struck for the same reason. Weakness of peripheral lettering on the right side of the reverse is largely due to the horizontal misalignment — there was little resistance to the impact of the anvil die opposite the unstruck crescent.

The Denver Mint produced quite a few major horizontal misalignments in 1999, and also a few vertical misalignments. Shown here is a double-struck 1999-D Jefferson 5-cent coin in which the first strike was delivered by a hammer die that was horizontally misaligned and tilted up toward the left.

Before closing the book on Toth’s coin, I did mull over an alternative explanation. His coin’s curious appearance could have been caused by simultaneous horizontal misalignments of the hammer and anvil die in opposite directions. While I can’t discount this scenario entirely, I view it as unlikely.

Major horizontal misalignments of the anvil die are exceedingly rare. The anvil die is surrounded by the collar, which limits horizontal movement to a small fraction of a millimeter. The only way a major horizontal misalignment can occur is for the collar itself to shift laterally (carrying the anvil die with it), or for the collar to break apart, freeing the anvil die from its embrace.

To date, major horizontal misalignments of the anvil die have been detected in an extensive series of 2000-P Virginia quarter dollars, a single 1993-P quarter dollar, and a single 1984 cent.

Simultaneous misalignments of both dies have been documented, but in each case the horizontal misalignment of the anvil die was slight. Illustrating this phenomenon is a 1966 5-cent coin.

Coin World’s Collectors’ Clearinghouse department does not accept coins or other items for examination without prior permission from News Editor William T. Gibbs. Materials sent to Clearinghouse without prior permission will be returned unexamined. Please address all Clearinghouse inquiries to or to 800-673-8311, Ext. 172.

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