US Coins

Catastrophic die damage occurs when foreign objects intrude

Coinage dies are subject to many forms of erratic damage before and after installation. The assorted dents, gouges, scratches, and abrasions tend to be minor and commonplace, although notable exceptions exist.

The far end of the damage spectrum is occupied by rare and often singular cases of catastrophic die damage (see the Sept. 19, 2011, column for three examples). Catastrophic die damage occurs when a hard, brittle, relatively large object invades the striking chamber. The object shatters upon impact, generating an extensive array of die dents and impact scars. While the initial downstroke of the hammer die undoubtedly generates most of the damage, subsequent strike cycles can add to the destruction if debris remains within the striking chamber. The foreign object and its shrapnel can also knock pieces off the dies and collar.

While the identity of the foreign object can’t be established with certainty in any particular case, likely candidates include die fragments from the same or adjacent striking chamber, fragments of a collar, or pieces of a die or feeder assembly.

In the three years that have elapsed since I last covered the subject, I’ve come across two additional examples of catastrophic die damage that I feel deserve “Clearinghouse” treatment. 

The first coin — a 1998-D Washington quarter dollar — comes from Michael Evanchik. Both faces are covered by die dents and impact scars. On the obverse, a wide die crack — likely generated by the initial impact — extends from Washington’s eyebrow to the design rim. A large cud can be seen at 1:00. This portion of the obverse die may have been knocked off by a piece of shrapnel or it might mark the location from which the intrusive object was originally derived.

A particularly intriguing feature can be seen below and to the left of Washington’s chin. Within a larger impact scar one can make out seven to nine parallel ridges. This suggests that the object could have been a threaded cylinder, like a bolt or a screw. Another possibility is that the object was a segment of the collar. The ridges on the coin could represent an impression of the collar’s ridges in the obverse die face. Supporting this conjecture is the presence of a full collar break (collar cud) that extends from 2:00 to 5:00 (obverse clock position). 

Arguing against this possibility is the spacing between the ridges, which is slightly greater than the spacing between the grooves on the edge of a normal quarter dollar. It also seems unlikely that a hardened semi-circle of metal derived from the working face of the collar could be flattened out without shattering. Such flattening would be necessary to create the ridges seen on the coin, which are uniform in their relief and spacing.

If the collar wasn’t the source of the foreign object, then it’s likely that the missing collar segment cracked off when the foreign object was driven into the collar’s upper surface or its working face.

I should mention that full collar breaks are exceedingly rare on reeded issues. When brittle failure does affect a ridged collar, you usually end up with a retained collar break or a bilateral split collar. In other words, the collar simply cracks and spreads apart, leaving the coin with full (albeit displaced) reeding.

Our second example — a 1988 Lincoln cent — comes courtesy of George dePozsgay, who found it in a customer-wrapped roll obtained from his local bank. 

Both faces display extensive die dents and impact scars, with the worst damage seen in the northwest quadrant of the obverse face and the corresponding southwest quadrant of the reverse face. A sizable cud is located on the right side of the obverse face. Once again, the missing die fragment could have been the source of the subsequent damage or it could have been knocked off by the unidentified foreign object.

This coin also presents us with a remarkable coincidence. The planchet itself was affected by two forms of Mint discoloration and a presumably unrelated case of peripheral pre-strike damage. The reverse face displays dark, parallel streaks, not unlike streaks featured in the Oct. 13 column. It’s possible that they represent a residue from rolling-out of the zinc strip that caused discoloration of the overlying copper plating. 

The reverse also shows a bull’s-eye pattern of discoloration. Similar bull’s-eye patterns of plating discoloration and incomplete plating can be seen on other copper-plated zinc cents, like the off-center piece that appeared in the March 10 column.

Turning to the pre-strike damage, it seems that the flattened apex and lower bevel of the planchet’s trapezoidal edge were abraded away, leaving a roughened band of exposed zinc on the coin’s definitive, collar-struck edge next to the reverse face. The planchet’s obverse protorim was also abraded away, leaving a roughened circle of exposed zinc on the coin’s design rim and adjacent field. 

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