“Don’t fix it if it ain’t broke” is a rule that can be applied to coin designs as much as any other creative enterprise. And yet mints here and abroad constantly tinker with well-established designs, sometimes to the latter’s detriment.
There are any number of reasons to modify a coin’s design. It might be done to improve the strike or reduce wear in particularly vulnerable areas. It might be done to prolong the life of the dies or because of changing aesthetic sensibilities. A change in a coin’s composition might alter strike characteristics, necessitating a design change.
These design changes are not strictly die varieties, as they extend to many working dies. Changes that result from tinkering with a master hub or a master die are often referred to as “design subtypes” or simply “subtypes.”
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Design subtypes can be exclusive to a particular time interval, can slop over into earlier or later design regimes, or can co-exist with one or more other subtypes. Efforts to record and classify design subtypes are long-standing and ongoing. Among Jefferson 5-cent coins we have the “Reverse of 1938” and the “Reverse of 1939,” each of which slop over into the neighboring year. Lincoln cents struck in 1973 have a distinctive reverse characterized by enlarged designer’s initials. Dimes struck in 1970 can display a strongly or weakly defined torch flame.
As with any artistic endeavor, mistakes can occur when altering a design. While I can’t recall any significant 20th or 21st century goof-ups among domestic coins, the wider world offers some embarrassing examples.
In a previous column devoted to spelling mistakes on world coins (Jan. 25, 2016), I included a 2008 Chile 50-peso coin in which the country’s name was misspelled CHIIE. Reproduced here, this mistake likely traces back to a fouled-up obverse master hub. The need to fabricate a new master hub may be related to the design’s longevity (it was introduced in 1981). It’s possible that the original master hub cracked while generating the master die intended to be used in 2008.
Once the spelling mistake was spotted, at least one additional master hub with the correct spelling of CHILE was fabricated and used to make the majority of 50 peso obverse dies used that year. Interestingly, the website numista.com reports that the spelling error can also be found in some 2009 50-peso coins. Perhaps a one of the master dies generated by the misspelled 2008 master hub escaped destruction and was inadvertently used to fabricate at least one working die during the subsequent year.
Our next badly executed design modification can be seen on the reverse face of a 2007 Mexico ringed-bimetallic 10-peso coin. The dentils running along the internal margin of the design rim are reversed. The dentils should look like a backward-facing capital L, with the horizontal bar pointing to the left. In this coin the horizontal bar points to the right.
This 10-peso design is current and has been in use since 1997. The normal orientation of the dentils is consistent throughout this issue. These types of dentils were first used in 1905 and appear on many other issues and denominations. I’m not aware of any other examples of reversed dentils. This subtype is reportedly quite rare.