The following is the Collectors’ Clearinghouse column from the Feb.
20, 2017, issue of Coin World:
Diminutive raised rings, semicircles, crescents, and spirals have
bedeviled coin investigators for years. All reflect abnormalities in
the die face and all have resisted explanation.
Most ring-shaped defects are tiny and centrally located, like the
circle that surrounds the Lincoln statue on the reverse face of the
illustrated 2004 Lincoln cent. At least four other
similarly-marked 2004 cent reverse dies exist. The earliest ring I am
aware of appears on the obverse of a 1988
cent. However, there is a 1965
cent with a somewhat larger obverse ring that lies far from the
center of the coin, near the front corner of Lincoln’s coat.
Lincoln cent: The popular Lincoln
cent has gone through several reverse updates since it was
introduced in 1909 to honor the nation's 16th president on the 100th
anniversary of his birth. How much are Lincoln cents worth?
The most recent rings I’ve seen can be spotted on the reverse face
of at least one 2015-P Jefferson 5-cent coin.
In some 2004 cents, the ring is broken and composed of two slightly
overlapping crescents that face each other. Since the horns of the two
crescents are slightly offset from each other, it probably means that
each crescent is part of a separate ring.
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Rings are not always perfectly centered. Those found on the reverse
face of 2014-P and 2015-P 5-cent coins generally lie
slightly to the left of center. Their precise positioning also varies
from die to die.
Rings are almost always isolated, but there are exceptions. Steve
Young has discovered coins from at least three different 2014-P 5-cent
dies with centrally located rings lurking in the doorway of
Monticello. In at least one die, faint traces of outlying,
closely-spaced concentric rings can be detected (see photo).
5-cent coin: If one word sums up the Jefferson 5-cent
coin, it would be "change" because throughout its storied
history it has endured many changes, from placemenst of Mint marks
and designer intitials, to portraits of its namesake president. How much are
Jefferson 5-cent coins worth?
These outlying partial rings suggest a relationship to concentric
lathe marks. The latter occur when the cone-shaped face of a blank
working die is not adequately polished after machining. If they are
not erased by subsequent hubbing, the lathe marks will be transferred
to a coin in the form of a concentric series of closely-spaced rings
(or a very tight spiral).
Concentric lathe marks are most commonly found among 1996-D cents, with Jason Cuvelier listing 18
dies. Cuvelier lists many other dies from a diversity of dates and denominations.
I find the connection between rings and lathe marks to be tenuous as
best. I’ve already noted that some die rings take the form of facing,
overlapping, offset crescents and others fail the expectation of
perfect and consistent centering.
A possible connection between the tiny die rings and larger
curvilinear die defects has also been bruited about. The curved die
dents of the two “extra leaf” 2004-D Wisconsin quarter dollars and the “double
ear” 2004-D Roosevelt dime emerged in the same year
(though not the same facility) as several reverse cent die rings. This
may simply be coincidental, as die rings and curved die dents appear
in earlier and later years.
Other types of die defects further complicate the picture. On the
Coin Community Forum, Richard Cooper posted images of a 2010
cent with an unmistakable spiral on its obverse face. The spacing
between the lines seems too great for concentric lathe marks and the
failure for the spiral to continue outward is also hard to reconcile
with this diagnosis.
Cuvelier’s website lists other ring-like features that bear some
resemblance to lathe marks, but that are excluded due to factors such
as coarseness or deviations from perfect circularity. For example, he
lists a 1982 cent that shows, on both faces, concentric,
irregular, closely-spaced hexagonal rings (see photo). He speculates
that the die might have been abraded by a rotating brush. But I don’t
see how a rotating brush could generate polygonal scratches.