Reciprocal die deformation is a rare phenomenon in which one die face
sinks in while the other bulges out in a complementary fashion.
Until recently, I knew of only one die pair afflicted in this
manner. It produced a large group of 2001-P Kennedy half dollars, one
of which is shown here. The central two-thirds of the reverse die sank
in while the central portion of the obverse die bulged out less
impressively, producing coins with a convex/concave cross-sectional
profile (Collectors’ Clearinghouse, Sept. 16, 2013).
I recently came across a very different case of reciprocal die
deformation in an off-center 2007 India 2-rupee coin minted at the
Calcutta facility. Here deformation affects about 180 degrees of each
On the left side of the obverse face, a deep and profoundly
irregular collar scar runs through the unstruck portion of the
planchet. The collar scar serves to identify the obverse die as the
anvil die (the usual setup for recent Indian coins). Just to the right
of the collar scar, the obverse field and its contained design
elements slope upward to meet the unstruck crescent.
Normal Indian 2-rupee coins of this design display a nearly flat
peripheral field, so the exaggerated curvature seen on this coin is
quite abnormal. The left side of the obverse die (bearing the
denomination and the Ashoka lion) retreated or was pushed in, leaving
the die with a convex cross-sectional profile in this area. The coin
itself therefore has a correspondingly concave cross-sectional profile
in this same area.
Let’s now turn to the right side of the reverse face, which was
struck by the hammer die. Indian coins are struck in medal rotation,
which means that both obverse and reverse designs point in the same
cardinal direction. Because of this orientation, the left side of the
obverse face and the right side of the reverse face lie directly
across from each other in vertical space.
On the right side, the perimeter of the reverse field, along with
its contained elements, exhibits a conspicuous downward curvature,
which means that the die face itself was concave in this area. It may
be that the greater portion of the die face sank in, leaving only a
crescent on the right side occupying the original horizontal plane of
the die face. However, since there’s no sign of deformation in the
coin’s interior, I think it’s more likely that the periphery of the
die protruded beyond the original horizontal plane. In cross-section,
this portion of the die face would have resembled the inside of a
contact lens. The inflected edge of the die face was rather sharp, and
sliced deeply into the planchet.
Elsewhere on the coin we find evidence of a major press calamity.
The coin’s obverse field is more laterally positioned than the reverse
field, leaving the unstruck portion of the planchet wider on the
obverse face. This suggests that the anvil die and its surrounding
collar were horizontally misaligned. This rare alignment error can
only occur if the collar breaks free of its moorings or breaks apart,
freeing the anvil die from its confinement. The terribly ragged collar
scar is consistent with such an error as it indicates that the collar
was seriously damaged.
I suspect that a massive impact from the side drove the collar into
the anvil die neck, causing downwarping along the left side of that
die face. This same impact may have forced the right side of the
hammer die to protrude, provided that the hammer die was at the lowest
point of its downstroke (and therefore within the collar). It seems
less likely that the hammer die was damaged while situated above the
collar. A final possibility is that the hammer die escaped the impact
but instead conformed quickly to the deformation already present on
the anvil die through the medium of the relatively large (26.75
millimeters), relatively thin (5.8 grams), stainless steel 2-rupee
planchets. This curious scenario would probably hinge on the dies
being softer than normal.
This may indeed have been the case. One would think that die steel
would shatter before it would undergo the sort of drastic deformation
seen here. The fact that the dies didn’t shatter suggests that the die
steel was unusually malleable and that this set the stage for the
subsequent, impact-induced distortion.
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