Repairs to dies restore lost details: Collectors' Clearinghouse

20th century re-engraved working dies are both sporadic and sloppy
By , Coin World
Published : 05/17/16
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The fifth and sixth editions of the indispensable Cherrypickers’ Guide to Rare Die Varieties include several 20th century coins struck by re-engraved working dies. Despite their distinct appearance, the vast majority are fairly recent discoveries.

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A re-engraved die is one that has been modified after hubbing or installation. Repair jobs were usually undertaken to restore lost details and enhance faint details. Loss of design clarity may result from:

    (1) Overpolishing of Proof dies, which can erase shallow recesses and soften borders.

    (2) Overzealous intentional die abrasion in circulation-strike dies, which can erase shallow die recesses and thin already-narrow design elements.

    (3) Die wear that leaves the design mushy and boundaries indistinct.

    The obverse die that struck the illustrated Proof 1953 Jefferson 5-cent coin was subjected to excessive polishing (polishing produces the mirror-like fields). This action removed part of the ribbon that ties up the end of the queue on Jefferson’s wig. Polishing also left the back of the queue indistinct below the ribbon.

    An engraver tried to restore the missing details by dragging the point of a fine engraving tool across the die face four times. Three strokes form a box-like frame that reconstitutes the outline of the bow. A fourth stroke restored the back of the queue below the ribbon.

    The designer’s initials (“AW”) on the reverse die that struck the illustrated 1944-D Walking Liberty half dollar were originally lost due to intentional die abrasion. Abrasion is usually performed to remove clash marks and other forms of superficial damage. The initials are particularly vulnerable to abrasion because they are raised on the die face in order to produce the incuse version on the coin. In this instance, an engraver restored the missing initials with a series of taps from a chisel-like implement. Similarly abraded Walking Liberty half dollars simply lack the designer’s initials (“missing initials” variety).

    Our final example is seen on the reverse face of a 1957-D Washington quarter dollar found by Cris Salamango. In this case a very worn die with mushy details was removed from the press and the eagle’s tail feathers were enhanced. A fine engraving tool was dragged across the surface of the die six times. Due to their inexact placement, it’s not clear whether these lines were an attempt to restore the edges of the feathers or to introduce a central shaft (rachis), a feature that is not part of the original design.

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