World Coins

Obviously not a spelling bee winner: Clearinghouse

There are many quality control steps between the artist’s original conception of a coin’s design and the release of that coin into general circulation. Numerous individuals have the opportunity and the obligation to inspect the finished sketch, clay sculpture, copper galvano, plaster cast, master hub, master die, working hubs, working dies, and finished coins. It is therefore surprising how many obvious spelling errors have passed this gauntlet and entered circulation.

The addition, deletion, transposition, reversal, inversion and substitution of letters can take place at many points in the production process. The original sketch might contain the error, or it might slip in while translating the sketch into a clay bas relief model. If not caught and corrected, either of these mistakes would carry over into the fabrication of the master hub — the template for all of the dies produced in that year.

Not all spelling mistakes can be traced to the master hub. In the 19th century and first few decades of the 20th century, it was common for some letters to be punched or engraved into the master die — a template one step removed from the master hub. 

During the 19th and early 20th centuries it was also common for letters to be punched into each working die by hand. Since many working dies had to be fabricated each year, it’s not surprising that some spelling errors crept in.

Not all mistakes are necessarily accidents. Some may represent expedient measures taken when a letter punch was misplaced or broken. A hurried engraver would grab a punch bearing a similar-looking letter, hoping no one would notice or care.

Our first spelling mistake is found on a 1916 Peru half dinero. The country’s name is misspelled FERUANA instead of PERUANA. The letters were clearly punched into a single working die because the F of FERUANA is repunched. Since the P of REPUB is correctly punched, it doesn’t appear that the letter substitution was an expedient measure. Either the wrong letter punch was grabbed by mistake or the engraver decided to have a little fun on the job.

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Several other misspelled country names are known. The illustrated 2008 Chile 50-peso coin shows the country spelled as CHIIE. The mint director lost his job after a hailstorm of ridicule ensued. Also depicted is a 1999 Portugal 100-escudo that shows a letter deletion instead of a letter substitution. The country is spelled PORTUGUSA instead of PORTUGUESA. This mistake probably traces back to the master hub, as the spacing of all the letters was altered by the missing letter. A well-known spelling error (not shown) occurs on a 1922 Brazil 1,000-real coin where the name BBASIL appears beneath the twin busts on the obverse face.

Other mangled geopolitical labels include a 1995 Argentina 1-peso coin that features a misspelling of the Spanish word for “province.” It is spelled PROVINGIAS instead of PROVINCIAS.

Our next illustrated specimen is a commemorative 1972 Egypt 5-piastre coin that shows a letter transposition. UNICEF is misspelled UNICFE. Although the individuals responsible for this issue may not have been proficient in English or English acronyms, one would think that the name of one of the world’s most prominent humanitarian organizations would have been more familiar to them.

Our last spelling error on a coin can perhaps be forgiven, as it involves a long Greek-derived zoological name for the Philippines monkey-eating eagle. The genus name for this raptor is PITHECOPHAGA (literally monkey-eater). It was misspelled PITHECOBHAGA on this 1983 Philippines 50-sentimo coin. 

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