US Coins

Collectors’ Clearinghouse: Errors & Varieties: Die-struck letters on rim of coin are mistaken for die wear

On Nov. 21 of this year, several photos of a 1981-P Washington quarter dollar were posted by Darren Brundage on the Coin Talk message board. He was intrigued by what seemed to be letter traces on the design rim above LIBERTY. Brundage asked fellow group members whether he was dealing with a case of rim-restricted design duplication.

Rim-restricted design duplication is a rare form of machine doubling that has been described in several previous columns (Feb. 22 and Dec. 6, 2010; Aug. 22, 2011). It is almost exclusively restricted to the face struck by the hammer die (see Oct. 21 column).

Rim-restricted design duplication occurs when the hammer die bounces up from the coin’s surface, shifts to one side and lands lightly on the design rim, leaving a second set of peripheral design elements.

Most of those who responded to Brundage’s inquiry (including me) concluded that the presumed letter traces were merely distortions of the design rim caused by die deterioration. The coin clearly represented a late die state marked by well-developed radial flow lines. Rim-restricted design duplication had never been found in a coin this old or in any denominations other than Lincoln cents and Presidential dollars (the oldest cases of rim-restricted design duplication I knew of were several 1994 cents).

Despite my initial negative impression, I invited Brundage to send the coin to me for a closer examination. After all, you can only glean so much from a photo, and I have been known to change my mind when confronted with the physical reality of a piece in hand.

Once I placed the coin under a microscope I immediately reversed my opinion. It did turn out to be a case of rim-restricted design duplication. The letter tips found on the design rim closely matched their normal counterparts. Sections of the design rim between the letters were flattened by the field portion of the obverse die face. I could tell this was the case because die flow lines found in the coin’s field were precisely replicated on the design rim.

Additional signs of die instability can be found along the underside of the normal letters BERT. These show “slide doubling,” a form of machine doubling that results in smearing of the newly struck design elements.

With growing excitement I dove into a container of minor errors in search of a 1979-D Roosevelt dime that I dimly recalled having characteristics similar to Brundage’s 1981-P Washington quarter dollar. Years back I concluded that it was merely a case of die deterioration. Once I found it again, a second look convinced me that my original diagnosis was wrong. It too is a case of rim-restricted design duplication — simultaneously the oldest and the first recorded on a dime. As with the quarter dollar, I was fooled into thinking it was merely die fatigue because the dime was struck by a very worn obverse die.

In this dime, the tips of the last four letters of LIBERTY are duplicated on the design rim. As with the quarter dollar, segments of the design rim lying between the letters are flattened and die flow lines seen in the coin’s field are duplicated on the design rim. Slide doubling can be seen on the underside of the normal letters RT.

When you think about it, dime and quarter dollar designs from this time period are tailor-made for rim-restricted design duplication. In quarter dollars dated 1981 to 1982 and dimes dated 1978 to 1979, peripheral obverse lettering is pressed right up against the design rim. After a high bounce, only a slight lateral shift would be required for the hammer die to leave letter traces on the design rim. In subsequent years the designs of these denominations are modified so as to leave a slight gap between peripheral elements and the design rim.

A design that hugs the design rim is also a factor in the frequent transfer of the folds of the Statue of Liberty’s robe to the reverse rim on 2007 George Washington Presidential dollars.

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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