Victory, it is said, has many fathers. The same may be said of a
mushy design. In considering any blurred design, it is essential to
distinguish among the numerous potential causes.
The most common cause of a mushy design is a worn die. In the course
of striking hundreds of thousands of planchets, the die face is
remodeled, leaving its design elements puffy and with fewer fine
details. The illustrated 1989-P Roosevelt dime was struck by a very
worn die. It would be more formally described as a Very Late Die
State. Letters and numbers are bloated and poorly defined. Another
sign of die deterioration is the presence of radial flow lines.
Generic capped die strikes can appear deceptively similar to a worn
die. As it strikes dozens of planchets, the floor of a die cap gets
progressively thinner, allowing more and more of the design to bleed
through. The illustrated 1982 Lincoln cent was struck through a very
late-stage die cap. The entire design is present, though uniformly
mushy. Subtle wrinkles extend radially from the date into the field.
Wrinkles, folds, and other surface irregularities constitute key
diagnostics for this error type.
As with a late-stage die cap, any thin layer of metal interposed
between a die and a planchet will generate a mushy design. For
example, the reverse face of this 1967 Roosevelt dime was struck
through a copper-nickel clad layer that separated from another
planchet. Since clad layers have a consistent thickness, the clarity
of the design is equally predictable.
Split planchets and planchets punched out of rolled-thin stock will
also leave behind a blurred design. These thin planchets will
sometimes remain in place and serve as die caps, becoming thinner in
the process. The reverse face of a 1956 Jefferson 5-cent coin was
struck through an abnormally thin planchet that allowed only a blurred
ghost of Monticello to bleed through. The smooth surface texture
leaves us no way to determine if the coin was struck against a
rolled-thin planchet or the smooth face of a split planchet.
Another familiar source of blurred features is a thin coating of die
fill (“grease”). The illustrated 1970-S Lincoln cent was struck
through grease on both faces, with the obverse face shown here. The
uneven strength of the design and the absence of wrinkles
distinguishes this grease strike from a capped die strike.
An initially clear, die-struck design can be rendered indistinct by
a second strike against a planchet or other circular wafer. The 1977
Lincoln cent shown here started out as split planchet (1.58 grams)
that was die-struck on both faces. It remained behind in the striking
chamber as a second planchet of presumably normal thickness was fed in
on top of it. When the two discs were struck together, it left the
bottom coin with a flattened, indistinct obverse design. The top coin
was left with a mirror brockage of the obverse design on its reverse face.
Occurring in isolation, the various error types described above can
sometimes be confused with each other. The situation gets much more
confusing when these errors are combined. I have, for example, seen
coins struck by late-stage die caps that were also covered by a thin
layer of grease.