On Nov. 21 of this year, several photos of a 1981-P Washington
quarter dollar were posted by Darren Brundage on the Coin Talk message
board. He was intrigued by what seemed to be letter traces on the
design rim above LIBERTY. Brundage asked fellow group members whether
he was dealing with a case of rim-restricted design duplication.
Rim-restricted design duplication is a rare form of machine
doubling that has been described in several previous columns (Feb. 22
and Dec. 6, 2010; Aug. 22, 2011). It is almost exclusively restricted
to the face struck by the hammer die (see Oct. 21 column).
Rim-restricted design duplication occurs when the hammer die
bounces up from the coin’s surface, shifts to one side and lands
lightly on the design rim, leaving a second set of peripheral design elements.
Most of those who responded to Brundage’s inquiry (including me)
concluded that the presumed letter traces were merely distortions of
the design rim caused by die deterioration. The coin clearly
represented a late die state marked by well-developed radial flow
lines. Rim-restricted design duplication had never been found in a
coin this old or in any denominations other than Lincoln cents and
Presidential dollars (the oldest cases of rim-restricted design
duplication I knew of were several 1994 cents).
Despite my initial negative impression, I invited Brundage to send
the coin to me for a closer examination. After all, you can only glean
so much from a photo, and I have been known to change my mind when
confronted with the physical reality of a piece in hand.
Once I placed the coin under a microscope I immediately reversed
my opinion. It did turn out to be a case of rim-restricted design
duplication. The letter tips found on the design rim closely matched
their normal counterparts. Sections of the design rim between the
letters were flattened by the field portion of the obverse die face. I
could tell this was the case because die flow lines found in the
coin’s field were precisely replicated on the design rim.
Additional signs of die instability can be found along the
underside of the normal letters BERT. These show “slide doubling,” a
form of machine doubling that results in smearing of the newly struck
With growing excitement I dove into a container of minor errors in
search of a 1979-D Roosevelt dime that I dimly recalled having
characteristics similar to Brundage’s 1981-P Washington quarter
dollar. Years back I concluded that it was merely a case of die
deterioration. Once I found it again, a second look convinced me that
my original diagnosis was wrong. It too is a case of rim-restricted
design duplication — simultaneously the oldest and the first recorded
on a dime. As with the quarter dollar, I was fooled into thinking it
was merely die fatigue because the dime was struck by a very worn
In this dime, the tips of the last four letters of LIBERTY are
duplicated on the design rim. As with the quarter dollar, segments of
the design rim lying between the letters are flattened and die flow
lines seen in the coin’s field are duplicated on the design rim. Slide
doubling can be seen on the underside of the normal letters RT.
When you think about it, dime and quarter dollar designs from this
time period are tailor-made for rim-restricted design duplication. In
quarter dollars dated 1981 to 1982 and dimes dated 1978 to 1979,
peripheral obverse lettering is pressed right up against the design
rim. After a high bounce, only a slight lateral shift would be
required for the hammer die to leave letter traces on the design rim.
In subsequent years the designs of these denominations are modified so
as to leave a slight gap between peripheral elements and the design rim.
A design that hugs the design rim is also a factor in the frequent
transfer of the folds of the Statue of Liberty’s robe to the reverse
rim on 2007 George Washington Presidential dollars.
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