US Coins

New 'Flying 9' variety of 1896 Indian Head cent discovered

Collector Douglas Hill discovered a new example of 1896 Indian Head cent some have dubbed the "Flying 9" variety because of the horn-shaped raised metal protruding from the top right of the 9 in the date.

Experts, however, have reached no broad agreement on what caused the anomaly.

Richard Snow, owner of Eagle Eye Rare Coins in Tucson, Ariz., and author of Flying Eagle & Indian Cents and The Flying Eagle & Indian Cent Attribution Guide, has assigned the newly discovered variety the Snow 21 attribution number.

Snow and error and variety specialist Thomas K. DeLorey consider the raised metal to be the result of a broken piece on the digit punch that was then impressed into the die. The raised metal resembles a serif from the top of a 5, but DeLorey considers this to be a coincidence.

"I think that there is a possibility that during the date punching operation a sliver of 'date punch steel' separated from the main body of the 9 in the gang punch and got driven into the 'die steel' next to the 9, resulting in the wing-like depression in the die steel that left the raised wing-like image on the coin," DeLorey said via email June 2. "This theory is based upon the concave void in the 9 adjacent to the area in question.

"The sliver of date punch steel might have been cracked away from, but still attached to, the body of the 9 before the gang punch came in contact with the die steel, and either fallen partly under the 9 before contact or peeled away from the 9 as the 9 sank into the die steel and then spread outwards," DeLorey surmised.

Snow's website describes the coin thusly, in part: "It has a bold horn-shaped die chip off the 9. ... The die chip is believed to have been part of a broken piece on the digit punch that got impressed into the die. A unique and unusual variety."

Bill Fivaz, another noted die variety expert, disagrees with DeLorey's and Snow's assessment "as it has what I refer to as 'character.' That is, it looks like something (in this case, the flag of a '5'), and has a definite form, not an irregular appearance as would probably be the case in the other theory. ... Having said that, I do not have a thought from whence it came."

Nonetheless, Fivaz believes the coin an important find. He is co-author with J.T. Stanton of The Cherrypickers' Guide to Rare Die Varieties, and plans to include the new listing in the book's latest edition due for a September release.

Hill says he discovered the new variety in March while searching through a dealer's coin shop inventory in Jacksonville, Fla. Hill said when he located the new variety, he originally believed the coin to be a 9 over 5 overdate because of the resemblance of the die chip to part of a 5.

Hill's coin is available for sale on Snow's website with an asking price of $1,000. The coin is offered as About Uncirculated 58, but has not been graded by a third-party grading service.

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