As research about error coins has increased, they have gone from
being lumped into one large category called “freaks” to be being
divided up into clearly defined groups.
This makes collecting them more interesting because the cause of
the error or change is clear. These groups are a matter of timing —
originating before, during, and after minting.
The first group, die varieties, are created before the minting
process begins. These should not be confused with errors although they
are often named as such. Die varieties are coins struck with a die
that has an engraving difference, problem or mistake. Some of these
differences occur accidentally while others are created deliberately.
The differences result in missing Mint marks, misspelled words or
other design variants. Since many thousands of coins may be struck by
a particular die pair, die varieties tend to be more common than errors.
True errors are always made during the minting process. Problems
with planchets or blanks, with dies and with striking are all root
causes. Since some of these are one-of-a-kind pieces, or nearly so,
error collecting can be as exciting as any treasure hunt.
Coins that have been altered with the addition of color or
imbedded relics, among other things, or with the subtraction of metal
in the form of carving are sometimes very interesting and can be
collectible, too. However, most often altered coins are just plain
damaged. The alteration always occurs after the minting process and
usually after the coin leaves the mint, although some world mints now
colorize and imbed their altered issues on site.
Now that you have the definitions, give yourself a quick quiz.
Before reading any further, look at the coins photographed for this
column and jot down your opinion. Can you tell which one or ones are
the die varieties, the errors and the alterations? If you don’t get
more than half correct, don’t be discouraged. Expert error collectors
will tell you that it took them years to hone their skills, and that’s
not a bad thing. Mastering the art of error identification is half the
fun of collecting error coins.
A perfect example of a die variety world coin that is often bought
and sold as an error is the 1999 Portugal 100-escudo coin. This UNICEF
commemorative was issued with a very important word misspelled, the
name of the country. The legend portuguesa was deprived of its e and
read portugusa. New dies were made and the coin reissued.
Perhaps the most spectacular of all errors is the mule, a coin
that resembles its animal namesake by virtue of being a dual-species
hybrid. The two sides of a mule do not match. A mule coin can have two
obverses, or two different denominations, or even sides from two
One affordable world mule hails from the country of Macedonia, the
year 2000 1-dinar coin commemorating 2,000 years of Christianity. The
obverse of the coin is the commemorative side, and is cataloged by the
Standard Catalog of World Coins as Krause-Mishler 9. The
reverse is from the circulating issue dinar that was last made in
2001, cataloged as KM-2.
Blanks and planchets are fascinating but many error enthusiasts
prefer to see enough of a design to make identification possible. In
the pictured example, the only details on the blank are on the edge
where it reads 2 EURO. The word of the seller is all we have that this
is a 2006 Netherlands coin.
Many types of striking errors can be produced. Broadstrikes are
relatively common with world coins, especially circulation issues from
Mexico dated in the 1960s and 1970s. A broadstrike means that the coin
is struck outside of its collar, resulting in a wider than normal
diameter, which leaves the design distorted-looking near the edges.
Die breaks are also easier to find than many other types of
striking errors because many dies that remain in use will crack
eventually. When a crack adjacent to the rim of the die goes
undetected by a mint, it can eventually lead to a portion of the die
breaking away, resulting in “lumps” of metal on the coins called cuds.
German coins from the 1920s and 1930s are an excellent source for cuds.
Among alterations are many collectible types such as
counterstamped, colorized, waffled, imbedded, carved and cut coins.
Altered coins called “Trench Art” were crafted by sailors and soldiers.
The consumer must be careful because some altered coins are
counterfeit errors, manipulated by the seller solely to fool the
collector into thinking the coin is a genuine mint error. Knowledge,
experience, good magnification and an abundance of caution are the
best tools for any world coin error collector to have. ■