The Dec. 14, 2009, Collectors’ Clearinghouse summarized every known
mechanism or entry point by which foreign matter ends up in a coin.
Foreign matter can be (1) poured into, or left behind inside, a
crucible; (2) dropped into a molten ingot; (3) rolled into the coin
metal strip; (4) pushed into a blank by the blanking die; (5) squeezed
into a planchet by the upset mill; or (6) struck into a coin by the dies.
Last year a talented young collector named Alex Ness discovered a
new entry point in a heavily damaged 2002-P Indiana quarter dollar
housed in an Uncirculated Mint set. Covered in scratches, the coin
attracted little buyer attention when it appeared on eBay. That’s
undoubtedly because everyone else assumed it was a case of post-strike
Mint damage. It’s not uncommon to find coins that have been badly
damaged in Mint machinery after emerging from the striking chamber.
Some can be found in Uncirculated Mint sets, where they’re most often
damaged by the crimping machine that seals each coin in its plastic pocket.
It seemed reasonable to dismiss the damage as having occurred after
the strike because the scratches and gouges are just as strong in the
field as on the design. Ordinarily, damage is less evident in the
field because the increased effective striking pressure in this area
smooths out and often erases the imperfections. However, close
inspection showed the damage occurred before the strike.
In his recent Errorscope article (November/December 2014), Ness
observed that there is no displaced metal flanking the scratches and
gouges. The pressure ridges and burrs that must have originally been
present were flattened by the strike. Furthermore, some of the
scratches in the northeast quadrant of the reverse face were “closed
up” by the strike when the displaced metal was folded back over the
It’s not clear what caused the damage or whether it occurred before
or after upset. The design rim is less affected than the coin’s
interior, which is odd since the perimeter of a blank has no special
protection and the proto-rim of a planchet is especially vulnerable to
damage. Furthermore, any damage that coincides with the area
eventually occupied by the design rim will tend to persist, since
effective striking pressure is relatively low in this area.
To me, the scratches resemble “road rash.” Anyone who’s fallen off a
bicycle or a skateboard is familiar with this injury. Any exposed skin
that contacts the road surface ends up badly scraped, and one often
has to clean out bits of dirt and asphalt from the wound. The
similarity to road rash is more than skin deep (excuse the pun)
because a particularly wide scratch on the reverse face terminates in
an embedded piece of black debris. It’s clear that the foreign object
was dragged across the surface of the planchet and came to rest in the
reverse copper-nickel clad layer. The effect is reminiscent of the
sliding rocks of Racetrack Playa, where stones are moved across a
(usually) dry lake bed by collars of ice propelled by the wind. The
foreign particle is evidently quite hard, because the design did not
strike up where the die contacted it.
This newly discovered mechanism for the introduction of foreign
matter needs a name. “Scratched-in debris” or “scraped-in debris” seem
the most straightforward terms.
Ness discovered that the edge of his Indiana quarter dollar was also
damaged before the strike. Exposure of the copper core is interrupted
and uneven in some areas because bits of copper-nickel cladding were
scraped up, redeposited, and struck into the edge. The edge damage
lines up with some of the heaviest scratches on the reverse face,
pointing to a common origin.
Ness identified another form of pre-strike damage, which may or may
not be contemporaneous with the scratches and edge damage.
A shallow, vaguely defined, C-shaped depression encompassing
approximately 180 arc degrees is seen on the left side of both faces a
short distance in from the design rim. Their radius of curvature is
smaller than a quarter dollar. Peripheral design elements did not
strike up completely in these areas due to the localized reduction in
planchet thickness. It’s possible that here the blank or planchet was
compressed between two slightly tilted cylinders or tubes.