US Coins

Collectors’ Clearinghouse: Catastrophic die failure is seldom captured as it occurs

We often receive advance warning of die failure. It can be in the form of a shattered die (a network of large intersecting die cracks). A large section of one die face can be cordoned off by an arcing rim-to-rim or “pre-cud” die crack. A large, retained marginal die break (retained cud) or a wide split die can also portend wholesale, brittle failure.

It’s equally common to encounter the aftermath of brittle failure. A coin with large cud (marginal die break) would be a typical outcome.

Very seldom are we lucky enough to capture a die at the moment of failure or immediately afterward.

Tom DeLorey recently reported on a 1975-D Lincoln cent with a large cud and matching die fragment ( Both wound up together in the same $50 Mint-sewn bag (see photos). It’s clear that this coin was struck shortly after the fragment broke away. DeLorey speculates that the thin fragment may have temporarily adhered to the last coin it struck. In this way it would have hitched a ride with one of the 4,999 normal cents found inside the bag.

Our next example is a Roosevelt dime with two off-center strikes. The larger strike was delivered by a shattered reverse die that features numerous intersecting bi-level die cracks. A bi-level die crack is characterized by vertical displacement that leaves a “step” on the coin’s surface. A conventional die crack involves lateral spread that leaves a raised line on the coin. Both faces of the larger strike carry multiple sets of heavy clash marks. The repeated die collisions probably contributed to the crack-up of the reverse die.

The smaller strike was received as the obverse die was breaking apart. Only a small area of die-struck design containing the words IN GOD is present on the obverse face. The impact that generated this bit of design was delivered at an angle of approximately 45 degrees. The reason the die-struck area is so small is that it was delivered by a tiny portion of the obverse die. This strike may have been delivered by an obverse die with an enormous (more than 50 percent) cud. Another possibility is a strike from a floating die fragment trapped between the intact portion of the obverse die and the planchet.

The reverse face of the smaller strike is featureless, but it is not a “uniface strike.” A uniface strike occurs when one die is blocked by an intervening planchet. Here an unidentified foreign object (possibly a feeder finger) blocked the reverse die. The reverse face is decorated by numerous fine raised lines that follow a curved trajectory, travel in two different directions, and intersect extensively. A planchet would never leave this pattern, but a flat piece of machined, unpolished steel certainly could.

It’s impossible to determine if the steep angulation of the smaller strike is due to a tilted die or die assembly or if it represents the random orientation of a trapped die fragment.

Since no common areas of design link the two strikes, it’s also unclear whether the smaller strike was delivered by the same die pair as the larger strike. I suspect it was, since there’s a low probability that two adjacent die pairs would break up simultaneously.

Finally, one can’t be certain that the smaller strike followed the larger strike. I suspect it did, for two reasons: (1) the portion of the obverse die preserved in the larger strike shows no evidence of brittle failure, and (2) the larger strike shows no evidence of die tilt.

Our last coin comes from error dealer Jon Sullivan and features a two-coin progression that captures the breakup of a quarter dollar obverse die. The first strike was delivered off-center by a damaged obverse die that had already lost the area containing the date. During the second strike, the portion of the obverse die containing the motto IN GOD WE TRUST and Washington’s chin broke off on impact, leaving this portion of the design wildly displaced. At least one intervening strike resulted in the two dies clashing very heavily, leaving both dies with extensive clash marks that appear only on the second coin.

Coin World’s Collectors’ Clearinghouse department does not accept coins or other items for examination without prior permission from News Editor William T. Gibbs. Materials sent to Clearinghouse without prior permission will be returned unexamined. Please address all Clearinghouse inquiries to or to 800-673-8311, Ext. 172.

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