Bill Gibbs

Bill’s Corner

Bill Gibbs

William T. Gibbs, senior editor, news, joined the Coin World editorial staff in 1976 and serves as chief copy editor for all Coin World publications while directing weekly editorial production aspects. The collector of numismatic items relating to Adm. George Dewey of Spanish-American War fame has served as lead copy editor for all Coin World books since 1985 and is principal author of the cover topic for Coin World's Guide to U.S. Coins, Prices & Value Trends.

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Publisher’s dilemma: what to add to standard price guides

As Coin World’s resident error coin specialist, I get a lot of phone calls from readers about coins they’ve found. A call I received the other day was typical, and unfortunately for the caller, so was my response.

The caller was excited about a coin he had owned for some 40 years: a 1971 Eisenhower dollar that was missing the letters OL in DOLLAR on the coin’s reverse. The owner expressed surprise that after all those years, the coin had not been listed in any publication, including the “Red Book” — Whitman’s venerable A Guide Book of United States Coins — and was hopeful that it could be listed in standard references.

Now, I can’t speak for Whitman, but as the principal editor for Coin World’s own annual Guide to U.S. Coins, Prices & Value Trends for more than a quarter century, I’m qualified to discuss why a few “odd” coins make the listings but most do not.

I explained to the caller that, for his coin, the most likely explanation is that some foreign matter, maybe “grease,” filled incused portions of the die. The grease impeded metal flow into those letters of the die, thus the OL was not formed on the coin. Such pieces are common, though collectible, with minor examples usually bringing very low premiums.

References like the “Red Book” and the Coin World Price Guide do not add such coins to their listings for a very good reason. The error was temporary — once the grease wore away after a few strikes or was manually removed by a Mint employee, the die would have returned to striking normal coins. It is also of a very common type. 

What standard price guides incorporate into their listings is a selection of die varieties (and die stages and states), and even then, just a tiny fraction of varieties that are produced are included. Granted, a few outliers have made their way into general works like the "Red Book" and Coin World's price guide, including the 1922-D Lincoln, No D cents. These errors are not die varieties in the technical sense; they fall into the category of die stages/states, since the changes that resulted in the missing D Mint mark occurred after the obverse die was placed into production, and not during the creation of the die itself.

Collectors who don’t understand the differences between errors, like the struck-through coin owned by the caller, and die varieties, like the 1955 Lincoln, Doubled Die Obverse cent (which the caller repeatedly referred to as “double stamped”) don’t enjoy the broad exposure to errors and varieties both great and small that we at Coin World and Whitman enjoy. They also don’t face the dilemma we publishers face of deciding what legitimate varieties to add to our respective products.

Generally, varieties are added to a standard reference when they are collected not only by specialists but by general collectors as well, or have gained wide popularity in collecting circles. That’s why the prime Doubled Die Obverse variety for the 1955 Lincoln cent is listed in standard references while the other multiple Doubled Die Obverses for the same date are found listed only in highly specialized references.

There is another reason a coin may not have been listed in any reference, even a specialty one devoted to Eisenhower dollars that goes beyond true die varieties — the coin may never have been reported to a specialist and confirmed. The caller had owned the coin for some 40 years but I got the impression that he had never contacted anyone in the publishing field about the coin previously; he was waiting for someone else to do so, apparently. And even when a variety has been reported to a specialist and confirmed, the find may not be reported to the broader numismatic community, even in this age of online chat rooms, forums and websites devoted exclusively to error and variety coins. 

The caller’s coin sounded like an interesting error, especially being on a large dollar coin, and would be a nice circulation find. However, it just doesn’t qualify for a listing in any standard price guide.
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