The Feb. 1, 2010, “Collectors’ Clearinghouse” column featured an
undated dime that was weakly struck by a hammer (obverse) die that was
both horizontally and vertically misaligned. The horizontal
misalignment amounted to 50 percent while the extent of die tilt was
estimated at about 15 degrees.
At the time, I thought this was likely to remain a unique error.
However, a nearly identical error — this time in the form of a
copper-alloy (pre-1983) cent — appeared as Lot 45 in the January 2012
auction Catalog No. 49 issued by Jim’s Coins (www.jimscoins.net).
As shown in the accompanying photos, the hammer (obverse) die
exhibits a horizontal misalignment of 50 percent. The only portion of
the obverse die to leave an impression was the rim gutter. The
stronger of the two sunken, curved impressions represents the medial
wall of the rim gutter.
On the coin, this simultaneously represents the edge of the field
and the internal margin of the design rim. The weaker impression
represents the lateral margin of the rim gutter. On the coin this
represents the outer margin of the design rim. No design is present on
the obverse face, so I can’t determine if the obverse die was rotated
(it wasn’t on the dime). The strike is even weaker than the dime’s and
is too weak for me to estimate the amount of die tilt.
The reverse design consists of the middle two columns and middle
three bays of the Lincoln Memorial along with Lincoln’s statue.
The weak strike likely led Numismatic Guaranty Corp. to label this
specimen a “die adjustment strike.”
Setting aside the challenges of determining whether any weak
strike is an escapee from a test run, one wonders why any test would
involve a die so horribly out of position.
Ultimately, it is impossible to authenticate a strike this weak
and incomplete. While the planchet is genuine, there’s always the
possibility that someone administered a light whack with fake dies.
However, its “separated at birth” resemblance to the earlier-reported
dime (a coin whose authenticity is beyond dispute) leaves me
reasonably confident that this is a genuine Mint product.
I have never seen a horizontal misalignment greater than 50
percent on any coin, domestic or foreign. Is this, then, the upper
limit for modern presses? Perhaps.
However, a second line of evidence suggests that this limit can be
surpassed. The evidence comes in the form of weak, tilted, and
horizontally misaligned die clashes found on Lincoln cents dating from
1991 to 2000.
More than two dozen of these unusual die clashes are cataloged on
While the scale of the misalignment varies markedly, most exceed 20
percent, with a considerable number in the 30 to 40 percent range.
However, one specimen, discovered by Robert Piazza and cataloged as
MDC-1c-1998-02, shows a horizontal misalignment of around 60 percent
at the time of the clash (see photos).
The curved, raised line behind Lincoln’s bust is an impression of
the edge of the field portion of the die. Faint incuse letter traces
can be seen along the internal (concave) margin of the ridge. Robert
(“BJ”) Neff, who took the photographs and generated the overlay, has
identified the letter traces as the er of america.
The relevance of these clashes to actual coins struck by
horizontally misaligned dies is unclear.
No cents actually struck with this kind of misalignment have been
reported from this time period. I have previously speculated that
these unusual clashes took place during installation, rather than
during a press run (July 12, 2010, “Collector’s Clearinghouse”).
Lateral movement of the die assembly may be different (and more
tightly constrained) during a press run.
Large lateral shifts would necessarily involve movement of the
entire die assembly. The recess that houses the die wouldn’t
accommodate such large shifts. And even if enough space did open up to
permit misalignments of this magnitude, the hammer die would assuredly
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