Saddle strikes occur when a planchet or coin straddles the gap
between two narrowly separated striking chambers. Operating in
synchrony, the adjacent die pairs produce a tandem double strike. The
interval between the two off-center strikes often buckles to form a
hump that occasionally resembles a saddle.
For years I assumed humps always pointed up, toward the hammer die.
Later on, when I encountered humps that rose above the reverse face, I
assumed the coins had been struck by inverted dies (reverse die as
hammer die). Both assumptions have lately been falsified. On rare
occasions a hump will bulge downward toward the anvil die.
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One such “sinking saddle” is seen here in a Lincoln copper-alloy
cent planchet struck by adjacent 5-cent dies. Its owner, Jim Cauley,
confirms that the hump rises above the reverse face. We can be certain
the obverse die functioned as the hammer die because this composition
was abandoned in favor of copper-plated zinc midway through 1982,
while inverted dies were not introduced until 1992.
Some may argue that a sinking saddle would be impeded by the top of
the collar. However, this barrier disappears if the collar is
depressed a few millimeters below the level of the anvil die face.
A slightly less secure example of a sinking saddle is found in a
triple-struck 1996 Lincoln cent that until recently belonged
to James Essence. Here a normal first strike was followed by a saddle
strike. The area between the two off-center strikes bulges toward the
reverse face. Although inverted dies were introduced in 1992, they
didn’t become common until 1997. Moreover, they don’t seem to have
been used outside the Denver Mint until 1997. Since this 1996 cent was
minted at the Philadelphia Mint, it’s unlikely to have been struck by
This coin also seems to show a delayed second strike. The obverse
die that delivered the first strike was unobstructed, while the two
obverse dies that produced the second and third strikes were
completely obstructed by a coarsely textured substance. It’s highly
unlikely that this foreign matter would have accumulated in the split
second that separates a normal succession of strikes. This 1996 cent
may have bounced several centimeters over to a second die couplet,
presuming the coin was struck in a quad press.
The die setup associated with our next example isn’t clear at all.
This copper-plated zinc cent planchet shows a saddle strike with a
well-developed hump that points toward the reverse face. Both faces of
both off-center strikes were struck through coarse material, more
extensively on the obverse. Despite this resemblance to our previous
cent, the absence of a date means it could have been struck anytime
between 1982 and 2001 (the last year in which saddle strikes are recorded).
The existence of sinking saddles means that hump direction is no
longer sufficient to infer the presence of inverted dies in undated
and post-1991 saddle strikes. Additional evidence is needed, which may
include diagnostic striking errors and strike effects. For example, a
collar scar is highly useful, as it always indicates which die
functioned as the anvil die. Unfortunately, collar scars seldom appear
on saddle strikes.
We finish up with a quadruple-struck 2000-D cent in which strikes three and four were
delivered in tandem by unmistakably inverted dies. The surface medial
to the smallest off-center strike has buckled toward the reverse die.
Off-center strike number two is uniface on the obverse (more common on
the “bottom” face) and, more importantly, involved the reverse die
sliding across the surface and scraping off the first-strike design (a
design ablation error). Such movements are possible only with the