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Collecting "Mistakes"

By James Essence, inspired by Len Roosmalen

On his American Entertainer reality TV show, Wayne Newton stated, "I always learned the most from my mistakes, not at any other times." In a similar way (I think), many numismatists are finding that collecting error coins is educational, fun, and affordable, and some dealers are beginning to capitalize on this oft-overlooked sector of the market.

Error coins are educational in that they reveal the subtleties of the minting process by inspiring the collector to figure out what went wrong to produce them. Due to the enjoyment of this speculation, and due to the often spectacular visual appeal of mint errors, collecting them is fun. And errors are affordable because they are one of the last bastions of numismatics not yet "discovered" or heavily promoted. For these reasons errors are great items to collect and for dealers to sell to their clients, whether building a set of errors, or as compliments to a "regular" coin collection. For collectors and dealers that are interested in including errors to their collections and offerings, this article will elaborate on the educational, fun, and affordable aspects of collecting, and along the way provide some educational resources, as well a "crash-course-glossary" to introduce the "error-novice" into this exciting field.

Collecting Errors Is Educational

Just as coins are educational in the fascinating stories and revelations of history that they hold, error coins hold their own unique stories. By pondering the causes of mint errors, one can glean fascinating tales of the minting process and what can potentially go wrong. Whether it is stories of intrigue such as a young mint night watchman named Eckfeldt creating die clashes of seated halves and $20 gold pieces on 1857 Flying eagle cent dies, or learning how the collar malfunctions to allow a coin to be struck off center, errors have many fascinating tales to tell.

Knowing the minting process and viewing the extremes of its malfunction can also aid in grading and pricing of "normal" coins by sharpening one's identification skills of the differences between mint-made and post-striking impairments. A few such contrasts that are often mistaken are as follows:

  • Die polish lines and hairlines
  • strike through errors and post-striking bag marks/damage
  • strike through errors and wear
  • laminated planchet errors and post-striking damage
  • weak strikes and wear
  • clipped planchet errors and damage
to name a few. Sometimes the differences can be clear, other times identification can be tricky, and if a person is familiar with errors and the minting process that person will have an edge in proper identification.

Collecting Errors Is Fun

Even non-numimatists can appreciate the spectacular visual appeal of an off center cent. Or, to the seasoned numismatist, it may be a nickel struck on a copper cent planchet, a double struck large cent, or a capped die barber dime that sparks their mind into imagination and wonder. In short, viewing and owning error coins is fun. In addition to the aesthetic appeal of errors, many find speculating about how errors occur intellectually stimulating and enjoyable. Then add the camaraderie that often develops among collectors when debating how some of the more unusual multiple errors and "wonder coins" occur, and you have the sum of an enjoyable hobby. In addition to coin shows, some forums where collectors and dealers gather to discuss errors are as follows:

Collecting Errors Is Affordable

Perhaps because of the uniqueness of each mint error, mint errors as a whole have not been as heavily promoted as most sectors of the market. There are endless ways to collect errors according to the collector's interest and budget. It could be a young numismatist adding an off center cent (costing under $10) to compliment his memorial cent collection, or assembling a renown collection of error large cents like the Micheal Arconti collection of error large cents that realized over $4.8 million in an auction by Superior Rare Coin Galleries.

Values of errors: As with anything, the values of errors can be broken down into the following formula: value = demand/quantity. However pricing errors is not as straightforward as pricing regular coins. Eye appeal usually accounts for a great deal more with errors. Use the previously mentioned resources as guides for pricing errors, but prices are often dramatically influenced by positive and negative eye appeal, perhaps in a way similar to dramatically toned coins in the normal coin market.

In accordance with the collector's interest and budget, some popular ways to collect errors are as follows:

Error Type Set:
Set of coins exhibiting each type of error. For example, a collection consisting of an off metal, a clipped coin, an off center, etc.

Type Set of Errors:
Same as a "normal' type set, except each coin has an error, or a particular error, such as a 20th century type set of off center coins, or a simple blank planchet set of cent through dollar which can be purchased for under $250.

Particular Type Set of Errors:
Set of errors of the same type on variously denominated coins. For example a collection of interesting brockages, or clips, or multiple errors.

Date set:
For example, a complete date set of buffalo nickels, all with clips, or even off centers for a real challenge. Or perhaps a more attainable goal of an off center Memorial cent collection, or even zinc memorial collection. Most dated off center memorial cents can be purchased for under $25 each, and under 10 dates/mints command over $100.

Series Error Set:
Consisting of error coins on a series, for example a neat collection of State quarter or Barber dime errors.

Complimentary Set:
For example, rounding out an uncirculated buffalo nickel collection with an off center and/or clip, or even an off metal for the adventurous.

"Looks Cool" Set:
One of the most popular sets consisting of miscellaneous errors that simply "look cool" to the collector.


In conclusion, for many collecting error coins is educational, fun, and affordable, and presents an exciting opportunity for collectors and dealers to expand their collections and range of offerings to clients.


To finish, a brief crash-course-know-your-errors-glossary. These are the most commonly encountered errors. For a more complete listings and explanations, see the resources listed above:

Coin struck without a collar, thus when the coin is struck the metal is allowed to expand and increase in diameter. May be centered or uncentered, but must not have any missing lettering or design detail.

Off center:
Coin struck without a collar and off center, different from the uncentered broadstrike because part of the lettering or design detail is missing.

Partial collar:
Coin struck with the collar partially around the coin causing part of the edge to expand and part of the edge will be held in place (and have reeding if clad) by the collar. Also called "railroad rim" due to the edge of the coin's appearance being similar to that of the edge a two-level railroad wheel.

When one side of a coin is struck normally by the dies and the other side is struck into a blank planchet or other obstruction leaving a blank appearance on that side. Commonly encountered with off center and double struck coins.

Doubled Die:
Dies are made by multiple impressions from a "hub" which bears an inverse image of the dies. Dies must be impressed several times by the hub to get a good image. A doubled die occurs when the hub rotates, or shifts, or is changed in some way between impressions of the die creating a doubled image of elements of the design. Thus every coin struck by that die displays the same doubled elements.

Mechanical doubling:
Often looks like a doubled die but is not. It is caused by loose dies that twist slightly after coming into contact with the planchet causing the die to slightly drag on the coin producing a flat, shelf-like doubled appearance. Also under this classification is excessive die wear and/or improper die annealing that will cause the elements of the design to appear doubled simply because the lettering and design elements are thick and mushy. Mechanical doubling usually commands very little premium. Be especially careful of this error on 1969-S cents which can sometimes be mistaken for the very rare and valuable 1969-S doubled die cent.

Die crack:
A crack in the die into which metal from the planchet will flow when the die strikes coins. Coins struck with that die exhibit a thin raised line or "die crack"

Die break:
A chip out of the die into which metal from the planchet will flow when the die strikes coins. It appears as a raised blob of metal on the struck coins. When the die break is large it is sometimes called a "cud."

When a significant part of the edge of the die deteriorates and falls off. The coins struck with this die exhibit a raised blank area on that part of the design. Sometimes called "major die break"

Caps or die caps:
When a coin is struck and sticks to the die for numerous strikes, the metal flows up around the die and the coin takes on the shape of a bottle cap. A very eye appealing and desirable error.

Capped die strike:
When a die cap error is occurring, the dies continue to strike more coins even though a coin is capped around one of the dies. If the coin is capped around the obv. die, the coins stuck with that die will appear blank or have varying degrees of mushyness on the obv. due to the obverse die being obstructed. If the cap stays on indefinitely, eventually it will wear through the planchet and the coins struck by that die will become less and less obstructed causing a "late-stage" capped die strike where the image is less distorted.

When a blank planchet partially overlaps another planchet in the striking chamber and gets struck, the overlapping area on the struck coin will exhibit a blank indented area from the other planchet being struck into it.

Occurs the same as an indent, except that a struck coin is struck into a blank planchet leaving a mirror image impression, although often quite distorted due to metal flow.

Struck through error:
Occurs when a foreign object lies on top of the planchet and leaves an impression of itself when struck into the coin. A wide variety of objects have been reported including grease, string, cloth, hair, plastic, bandaid, staples, etc.

Weak strike or Die trial:
Occurs when there is insufficient pressure from the dies to leave a full impression on the planchet. This can occur for a variety of reasons but usually occurs when the power to the presses is turned off and the dies continue to strike coins with less and less pressure until coming to a stop. On such coins all the detail, including the reeding on clad coins should exhibit extreme weakness. If the coin is simply struck through grease, some details may be strong and the edge reading will also be strong.

Curved Clipped Planchet:
Planchets are punched from large thin metal sheets. After a section of the sheet is punched, if the sheet fails to be fed far enough ahead, the punch will overlap an already punched area causing that planchet to have a circular "clip" of missing metal. A good way to tell if the coin is an error or simply damage that occurred outside the mint is to look for signs of metal flow into the blank area, which indicates a genuine clip. This will appear as weakness and thinness around the missing metal. There will also often be a corresponding area of weakness on the rim of the opposite side of the coin, known as the "Blakesley effect." A genuine clip will never show a raised edge of metal bordering the missing metal (which usually indicates shearing) and the details bordering the area of missing metal should not be crisp.

Straight clipped planchet:
If the metal strip shifts during the punching process and the punches overlap the straight side edge of the strip, a straight area of metal will be missing from the planchet.

Ragged clipped planchet:
If the punches overlap the ragged ends of the strip, a resulting ragged area of missing metal occurs.

Wrong planchet/off metal:
When a planchet is struck by a pair of dies that do not correspond to the denomination intended for the planchet, a wrong planchet error occurs. For example a Jefferson nickel struck on a cent planchet will have the same weight and copper composition as a cent. It will likely be smaller than a nickel, but probably slightly larger than a cent because the nickel collar cannot restrain the smaller cent planchet from expanding.

Double Denomination:
Occurs when an already struck coin is struck by a pair of dies of a different denomination. These coins will show details of both denominations. For example a cent struck on a struck dime (often called an 11c piece) will have the planchet of a dime and details of both a dime and a cent. Usually the details of the denomination of the last dies to strike to coin are strongest and some double denomination coins barely show any detail from the denomination of the first strike.

Clashed dies:
Occurs when there is a malfunction in the planchet feeding mechanism and no planchet is fed into the striking chamber allowing the dies to strike each other. The obv. die will leave an impression in the rev. die and vice versa. Coins struck with these dies will exhibit details of both the obv and rev. on each side of the coin. The amount of detail can vary from barely discernable to very noticeable.

Dirt and impurities in the metal of the planchet can manifest themselves as cracks and peels on the struck coin.

Split planchet:
If the impurity is severe enough, it can case the planchet to split into two halves obv. and rev. If the planchet splits before the strike, the resulting coin will be thin and have detail on both sides but often intermingled with rough striations from the impurities. If the planchet splits after the strike, one side will have full detail and the other side will be blank and striated. In either case the coin will be thin.

Jim's Coins and Precious Metals


James Essence

Jim's Coins and Stamps
Located in the Lower Level of Hilldale Shopping Center
726 N. Midvale Blvd. B-2
Madison, WI 53705
Store: (608) 233-2118     Fax: (608) 233-0175
Email: jimscoins@sbcglobal.net
Store Hours: M-F 10:00am - 5:00pm, Sat 10:00am - 3:00pm
Sun: by appointment only

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