US Coins

Editor's Q&A: Longtime numismatists John Wexler

Variety specialist John Wexler, left, received the ANA Presidential Award April 1 from American Numismatic Association President Jeff Garrett during the Whitman Baltimore Expo.

Original images courtesy of Kevin Flynn

John Wexler started collecting at a very young age, when he was about 7 years old, starting with Lincoln cents from his father's pocket change. Before long, he discovered Mint marks, and he attempted to build as complete a set as possible.

Q: What led you specialize in collecting and studying die varieties?

A: My introduction to die varieties came much later. I had an uncle who was an avid coin collector. After learning of my interest in coins he always brought a jar of Lincoln cents with him when he came to visit. During the visits I got to go through the coins in the jar to see if I could fill any of the holes in my Whitman Lincoln cent folders. I suspect that he salted the jar before coming to visit as there always seemed to be a few that I could use. I eventually had just a single “hole” remaining in folder #2 (1941 to 1958) and that was for the elusive 1955-S. It was quite a thrill for me when my uncle showed up for one of his visits and without going through the jar he handed me a nice shiny 1955-S Lincoln cent to complete that folder. I was so proud of that completed folder that I kept pulling it out and looking at it until on one of the looks I noticed something strange about that 1955-S cent. The cent had something between the B and the E in LIBERTY that resembled another letter. I didn’t know what it was, but I started examining my Lincoln cents much more closely and started finding other odd Lincoln cents with “clogged” letters or digits in the date. I put these curious pieces aside until one day at a local coin shop I spotted a copy of a book by Frank Spadone titled The Variety and Oddity Guide. Thumbing through the book, which I ultimately purchased, I was introduced to the world of mint errors and came to find out that my 1955-S cent was known as a “BIE” die break error and that these existed on other dates as well. Learning of these “BIE” die break errors led me to closely examine the word LIBERTY on every Lincoln cent that I got my hands on. Then in the summer of 1971 it happened. In a roll of Lincoln cents obtained from a local bank my diligent examinations of the word LIBERTY led to the discovery of a 1971 Lincoln cent with boldly doubled letters in LIBERTY. Closer examination also revealed nice doubling on the letters of IN GOD WE TRUST and the digits in the date. After some research, I came to learn that the doubled images on my 1971 Lincoln cent were an error type known as a doubled die. My enthusiasm was fueled by the discovery and I had something new to look for. The following year saw the release of the major 1972 Lincoln cent doubled die and the various lesser doubled die varieties for that year. I was hooked, and it all traced back to the modest gift of a 1955-S Lincoln cent from my uncle.  

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Q: What do you consider the best new die variety that you yourself have discovered? 

A: Without a doubt, it would have to be that 1971 Lincoln cent doubled die that I found in the summer of 1971. It completely changed my direction as a collector. In turn it led to my meeting many wonderful people in this hobby and moving in directions of research, writing, and participation in hobby activities that I would never have dreamed possible.

Q: What was the best find by another collector that you verified and first reported? 

A: That would have to be the discovery by Maximillian Lucas of a year 2000 circulation strike Lincoln cent with the reverse design intended for year 2000 Lincoln proof cents. Until this discovery the hobby as a whole was unaware that there were differences in the reverse design between the year 2000 circulation strike cents and the year 2000 proof cents. I had the pleasure of announcing that discovery in a front page article in the January 22, 2001, issue of Coin World. The report triggered a massive search of Lincoln Memorial cents with similar varieties being found for 1998 and 1999 dated Lincoln cents. The searching also led to the discovery of 1998-S and 1999-S proof cents with the circulation strike reverse design. These new varieties opened a new area of collecting for die variety collectors and the varieties were deemed special enough to be included in The Cherrypickers’ Guide to Rare Die Varieties, andA Guide Book of United States Coins (The Official Red Book). They have also been added to pricing guides such asCoin World’s monthly “U.S. Coin Values.”

Q: How has the hobby of collecting die varieties changed as Mint die-production techniques have changed? 

A: The greatest change to the die variety hobby has been the elimination of certain die variety types. With the introduction of the Lincoln cent in 1909 the Mint ceased the practice of hand punching the digits of the date into the working dies. This brought to an end the production of repunched date varieties, misplaced date varieties, and overdates produced by the use of different digit punches. In 1990 and 1991 the Mint ended the practice of hand punching the mint marks into the working dies bringing to an end the production of new repunched mint mark (RPM) and over mint mark (OMM) varieties. With the introduction of the single-squeeze hubbing presses in 1996 (Denver) and 1997 (Philadelphia) many thought that the doubled die variety would become a thing of the past. However, because of the nature of the setup of the working hub and the working die in the single-squeeze hubbing presses the production of minor doubled dies has actually increased in frequency. The production of major doubled dies has decreased, but some still manage to make their way into production much to the delight of die variety collectors. 

Q: How has the growth of the Internet changed how you report on new varieties? 

A: Thanks to the internet the reporting of new die varieties has become almost instantaneous. Once a new die variety is added to my listings, the information about that variety along with photos depicting that variety become available for viewing on my website at within a day of being processed. This gets collectors searching for that variety, or similar varieties, so much more quickly than having to wait until it appears in a printed publication.

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