US Coins

Patterned die damage errors sometimes resist explanation

Unless it’s unusual, severe or extensive, die damage seldom excites much interest among collectors.

Randomly distributed impact damage is one category that typically carries only a slight premium. The illustrated 1995 Lincoln cent is a representative example. Its obverse face shows an array of small die dents and impact scars inflicted when the obverse die struck a debris field. The reverse face shows no damage, leading me to suspect that it was either protected by a planchet during the strike or that this reverse die was installed after the impact.

Distinct patterns interesting

Damage arranged in distinct patterns is less common and often more interesting. The 2004-D Wisconsin, Extra Leaf quarter dollars are among the better-known recent examples. These curved die dents were apparently generated before installation, while the dies were in a softened (annealed) state. Vaguely resembling vegetative structures, they are not unique.

An even larger curved die dent impressed into a softened die can be seen on a 1999 Lincoln cent featured in the March 3, 2008, Collectors’ Clearinghouse.

Circular, semicircular and concentric die gouges constitute a distinct category of patterned damage. Often arrayed around a point in the center of the die face, it is unclear whether they all stem from the same cause.

Semicircular die gouges

A set of six semicircular die gouges can be seen in front of Washington’s face on the illustrated 1998-P quarter dollar. It would seem to have been caused by some kind of rotating mechanical device. Although superficially similar to concentric lathe marks, they are sharper, taller and less complete.

Concentric lathe marks occur when the cone-shaped face of a blank working die is not polished smooth before hubbing. The shallow, closely-spaced rings left by the lathe persist and are transferred to each planchet (see Collectors’ Clearinghouse for Dec. 26, 2011). They run across the field and design, while die gouges are typically confined to the field, as in this specimen.

Swirls and sprays of die gouges and heavy accidental die scratches are even more puzzling from the standpoint of process. I was recently sent an excellent example by Tom Steinbaugh (see accompanying photos). The reverse face of this 1983 Lincoln cent shows narrow “claw marks” arrayed in several closely-spaced formations. They are most prominent in the center of the Lincoln Memorial, but satellite patches can be seen next to the left upper corner of the building and between the letters of UNITED.

Both faces of the cent are covered by much finer intentional die scratches, the result of intentional die abrasion (“die polishing”). This action is usually undertaken to removed clash marks and other types of damage. However, I am unable to determine if the die abrasion was performed before or after the appearance of the “claw marks.”

Kennedy half dollar gouges

A fan-shaped array of thin, densely packed die gouges can be seen on the obverse face of a 2000-P Kennedy half dollar. The damage covers Kennedy’s face and neck and affects much of the field to the left of the president’s bust.

Without the aid of a microscope, these die gouges could be mistaken for the radial flow lines that develop in late die states. However, the pattern of their distribution and their sharp relief clearly distinguish them from any and all manifestations of die fatigue.

Moreover, the rest of the obverse die face and the entire reverse face show no signs of die deterioration.

This fan-shaped array of die gouges could also be mistaken for the still unexplained “starburst” effect that is sometimes seen on Presidential dollars (and some other issues). However, the starburst corona shows no relief, is more symmetrically developed and involves much finer lines.

As the die gouges converge on a central point located somewhere around Kennedy’s throat, they are replaced by tightly packed die dents that present on the coin as small bumps.

This suggests to me that the damage was caused by the disintegration of a brittle object. The resulting sharp particles spread out upon impact, damaging the die face.

The reverse face of this coin shows no damage. Again this could mean that the reverse face was protected by a planchet or that the reverse die was changed out.

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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