Coinage presses are rugged machines designed to remain stable in
face of murderous, incessant pounding. But these stresses can
occasionally knock loose a die or die assembly so that it drifts to
one side, creating a horizontal misalignment. Human error also plays a
role in creating these mishaps, as when a die (or die assembly) is not
properly installed, locked down or maintained.
Major horizontal misalignments almost always affect the hammer
die. Since it is not confined by the collar, the hammer die can drift
unimpeded. Horizontal misalignments can be stable or dynamic.
Evidence for rapid, dramatic lateral die shifts is abundant and
diverse. It includes:
(1) Coins with multiple sets of staggered, misaligned clash marks.
(2) Series of coins struck by the same die pair with different
amounts of misalignment.
(3) Misaligned die errors with misaligned clash marks in a
(4) Machine doubling (any of three types) featuring a dramatic
(5) Coins with a misalignment in one direction and strong machine
doubling pointing in the opposite direction.
(6) Coins with a design ablation error at one pole and slide
doubling (a form of machine doubling) travelling in the opposite direction.
(7) “One-sided” multi-strikes involving a centered first strike
and a strongly misaligned second strike.
Most misaligned die errors are devoid of clash marks. And
staggered clash marks usually appear on coins that are otherwise
unremarkable. The 1983-P Jefferson 5-cent coin illustrated on this
page shows two sets of clash marks that are widely separated from each
other. The obverse (hammer) die was misaligned toward the left when
the second clash occurred. However, by the time this coin was struck,
the hammer die had returned to the centered position. A press operator
may have restored the die to its normal position or it could have
returned to center spontaneously.
It is therefore a welcome event when a misaligned die error
co-occurs with a set of staggered clash marks. Such errors essentially
capture the hammer die in mid-drift.
The illustrated 1974-D Jefferson 5-cent coin shows a roughly 8
percent horizontal misalignment toward the 3:00 position. It also has
three sets of clash marks moving in the same direction. The set of
clash marks farthest to the right on the obverse face (and farthest to
the left on the reverse face) records a position for the obverse die
that matches its placement when it struck this coin.
An even more dramatic case of “motion capture” is seen on a 1998
Lincoln cent. Here there is an approximate 10 percent horizontal
misalignment of the obverse die toward the northwest. On both sides of
Lincoln’s bust one can count at least five sets of staggered clash
marks steadily moving toward the southeast. The reverse also shows
multiple, staggered clash marks, although they’re not as clear as the
“pillars” on the obverse.
It’s very clear what happened to this coin. A series of collisions
took place, with the obverse die moving progressively farther toward
the northwest after each collision. The clash marks are too
closely-bunched and overlapping to be sure if the ones located
farthest toward the southeast precisely match up with the present
position of the obverse die. But they’re undoubtedly somewhere in the vicinity.
Multiple, staggered clash marks (sometimes called “chatter clash”)
are not all that uncommon, although the amount of movement
demonstrated in this example is quite unusual. Both this and the
previous example nicely illustrate the progressive nature of some
major horizontal misalignments. Other major horizontal misalignments
of equal or greater magnitude develop instantaneously.
I have encountered four cents struck by the die pair described
last. All show the same amount of misalignment in the strike. This
would seem to show that, once the die reached this position, it
stopped moving around, at least for awhile.
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