US Coins

These coins are turning assumptions upside down

Saddle strikes occur when a planchet or coin straddles the gap between two narrowly separated striking chambers. Operating in synchrony, the adjacent die pairs produce a tandem double strike. The interval between the two off-center strikes often buckles to form a hump that occasionally resembles a saddle.

For years I assumed humps always pointed up, toward the hammer die. Later on, when I encountered humps that rose above the reverse face, I assumed the coins had been struck by inverted dies (reverse die as hammer die). Both assumptions have lately been falsified. On rare occasions a hump will bulge downward toward the anvil die.

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One such “sinking saddle” is seen here in a Lincoln copper-alloy cent planchet struck by adjacent 5-cent dies. Its owner, Jim Cauley, confirms that the hump rises above the reverse face. We can be certain the obverse die functioned as the hammer die because this composition was abandoned in favor of copper-plated zinc midway through 1982, while inverted dies were not introduced until 1992.

Some may argue that a sinking saddle would be impeded by the top of the collar. However, this barrier disappears if the collar is depressed a few millimeters below the level of the anvil die face.

A slightly less secure example of a sinking saddle is found in a triple-struck 1996 Lincoln cent that until recently belonged to James Essence. Here a normal first strike was followed by a saddle strike. The area between the two off-center strikes bulges toward the reverse face. Although inverted dies were introduced in 1992, they didn’t become common until 1997. Moreover, they don’t seem to have been used outside the Denver Mint until 1997. Since this 1996 cent was minted at the Philadelphia Mint, it’s unlikely to have been struck by inverted dies.

This coin also seems to show a delayed second strike. The obverse die that delivered the first strike was unobstructed, while the two obverse dies that produced the second and third strikes were completely obstructed by a coarsely textured substance. It’s highly unlikely that this foreign matter would have accumulated in the split second that separates a normal succession of strikes. This 1996 cent may have bounced several centimeters over to a second die couplet, presuming the coin was struck in a quad press.

The die setup associated with our next example isn’t clear at all. This copper-plated zinc cent planchet shows a saddle strike with a well-developed hump that points toward the reverse face. Both faces of both off-center strikes were struck through coarse material, more extensively on the obverse. Despite this resemblance to our previous cent, the absence of a date means it could have been struck anytime between 1982 and 2001 (the last year in which saddle strikes are recorded).

The existence of sinking saddles means that hump direction is no longer sufficient to infer the presence of inverted dies in undated and post-1991 saddle strikes. Additional evidence is needed, which may include diagnostic striking errors and strike effects. For example, a collar scar is highly useful, as it always indicates which die functioned as the anvil die. Unfortunately, collar scars seldom appear on saddle strikes.

We finish up with a quadruple-struck 2000-D cent in which strikes three and four were delivered in tandem by unmistakably inverted dies. The surface medial to the smallest off-center strike has buckled toward the reverse die. Off-center strike number two is uniface on the obverse (more common on the “bottom” face) and, more importantly, involved the reverse die sliding across the surface and scraping off the first-strike design (a design ablation error). Such movements are possible only with the hammer die.

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