US Coins

How new error-variety categories get discovered

The following is the Collectors' Clearinghouse column from the Nov. 28, 2016, issue of Coin World:

One of the attractive (or intimi­dating) aspects of the error-variety hobby is the sheer number and diversity of error-variety types, subtypes, and associated effects. 

The current version of my comprehensive error-variety checklist runs to 27 pages and contains close to 1,400 entries. The number of truly distinct E-V categories is a bit smaller, but the precise count will vary depending on one’s personal litmus test for distinctiveness.

Each of the entries has a history involving the efforts of one or more discoverers (I’ve contributed to around 90 entries). I’m certain that additional E-V types await discovery. Future discoveries would include those that have escaped notice, those that have been mistaken for other, more familiar types, and those that will emerge as the minting process changes.

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Identifying a new E-V category is a much rarer event than discover­ing a new example of an existing category. For example, many collectors have contributed to the lengthy roster of known doubled dies, while the number of doubled die classes (eight) has remained constant for decades.

Discovery isn’t an instantaneous event. Most of the time it’s a prolonged, stepwise process that involves the efforts of several individuals. The sequence of steps can be defined in the following fashion:

Retrieval: Plucking the coin from pocket change, a bank roll, Mint-sewn bag, dealer’s “junk box,” album, Mint set, Proof set, or other quotidian source.

Recognition: Suspecting that the coin is something unusual, and perhaps novel.

Description: Describing the salient features of the error.

Naming: Applying a label to the error.

Explanation: Assigning a likely cause.

Publication: Disseminating news of the discovery to the broader public.

I have personally never retrieved a new error type. Neither have most error dealers. We instead rely on sharp-eyed collectors and the employees of banks and coin-wrapping facilities.

The discovery of the first domestic example of design creep illustrates the collaborative and additive nature of the enterprise. As described in the April 20, 2015, column, design creep is a type of die deformation error in which the die face flares out during use. As a result, peripheral design elements hug, or are cut off along the edge of the coin. 

The first examples were retriev­ed by Robert Scheschuk among a larger sample of 2014-P Jefferson 5-cent coins. He found the first few pieces in a cash drawer and traced them to a group of bank-wrapped rolls delivered to his place of employment. The remainder of his stash came from those rolls.

Jefferson 5-cent coin

Jefferson 5-cent: If one word sums up the Jefferson 5-cent coin, it would be "change" because throughout its storied history it has endured many change, from the placement of its Mint mark and designer initials, to its composition and design. How much are Jefferson 5-cents worth?

Scheschuk recognized that he had something unusual and posted photos on at least one message board, soliciting opinions as to what he had. Those who commented were unimpressed. Some said it was a perfectly normal 5-cent coin while others said the reverse die was simply worn. It’s a good thing Scheschuk refused to accept these opinions; otherwise we might never have known of his find. 

Scheschuk eventually put a few of these coins up for sale on eBay, where I spotted them. As soon as I saw the photos, I recognized the significance of his find. I purchased several and discussed them in Coin World, adding the last four steps in the discovery process (description, naming, explanation, publication).

Some error types still await completion of one or more steps in the discovery process. Some, for example, lack a good explanation as to how they form or why they look the way they do. A case in point are capped die strikes with “expansion ripples.” This rare effect appears in the form of one or two raised outlines that follow the contour of large, centrally located design elements. The 1984-P Roosevelt dime shown above displays a very clear expansion ripple that follows Roosevelt’s profile. I don’t know who originally retrieved it, which is the case with most of the coins in my collection. The coin dealer I purchased it from provided a brief description and a photo, which was enough to pique my interest. 

Roosevelt dime

Roosevelt dime: President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's sudden death of a cerebral hemorrhage on April 12, 1945, compelled Treasury officials to recommend the late president's portrait to be immediately placed on a coin of regular issue. How much are Roosevelt dimes worth?

I subsequently found other examples of this phenomenon. I eventually applied a name to the effect and described its characteristics. But I still don’t know why it appears or why it’s so rare. I’ve speculated that, perhaps, this is what machine doubling looks like when it’s translated through the thinned floor of a late-stage die cap. But this is mere conjecture. I offer the mystery to other error sleuths; perhaps one of them will come up with a convincing hypothesis and provide the last step in the discovery process. 

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