A Guide To Coin Errors And Collecting Error Coinage

My daily routine includes wading through dozens of emails, many of which include inquiries about coins. The majority include coins of little consequence, but occasionally something exciting shows up. Several of the multi-million collections I have been fortunate to handle started with a simple email. Because of this, you can be sure that every email gets close attention. The best part of my job is the “Antiques Roadshow” aspect of the hobby. You never know what the next call or email will concern. 

Many of the emails we receive are about error coins. The rarity and value of miss-strike and error coins are one of the biggest misconceptions of numismatics. Anyone who runs across one thinks they have hit the lottery. The truth is that the United States Mint strikes billions of coins each year, and a relatively small number escape quality control and enter circulation. These coins were not made intentionally and are not considered regular issues. Most error coins are somewhat unique, and prices vary according to supply and demand. Lincoln Cents (billions made each year) with a minor error would be much less valuable than a dramatic error on a Silver Eagle, for instance.

Mint Error Coins

Error coins are an interesting study of the minting process. Most of us take the coins in our hands for granted, but how they are produced is quite fascinating. There are many steps from blank pieces of metal to the finished product, and mistakes do happen. 

The reason silver coins were combined with copper was to make them more durable, which was very important for coins that circulated, since pure silver is a soft metal that is easily damaged. This is the same reason why other countries in the 1800s and 1900s issued silver coins of various purity such as .500, or sterling, which is .925.

Interestingly, in 2002 the various Mints changed production methods to a system designed to eliminate deformed planchets, off-strikes, and other error coins. Coins are also no longer shipped in sewn bags to be counted and wrapped by banks or counting rooms where error coins were often found. Instead, the coins now go through automated counters programmed to filter out defective coinage. As a result, the number of error coins found in circulation has dropped dramatically since 2002, and most errors seen preceded this change. 

We also receive numerous inquiries about coins that have been mutilated or damaged after leaving the mint. Examples include coins that have been plated, acid-etched, hammered, or scratched. In most cases, these coins are virtually worthless.

Obverse Strike Through Mint Error Silver EagleObverse Strike Through Mint Error Silver Eagle

HOW TO IDENTIFY COIN ERRORS

The following are some of the most frequently seen error coins and how they came to be.

OFF-CENTER COIN ERRORS

Off-center errors are coins that have been struck out of the collar and incorrectly centered. As a result, part of the design will be missing. The coins were miss-struck when the planchet did not enter the coining press properly. The US Mint has been making this error on coinage since the first coins were struck in 1793. Off-Center Lincoln Cents are very common and usually sell for just a few dollars. Meanwhile, dramatic off-center coins of important issues, such as Morgan Silver Dollars, can sell for thousands of dollars.

Off Center Lincoln Cent ErrorOff Center Lincoln Cent Error

BLANK PLANCHET ERROR COINS

Coin blanks are punched from sheets of metal, then milled to upset the rims. Some coins escape the minting process and enter circulation. Lower denomination issues (because of the extremely high mintages) are quite common. The US Mint actually offers blank planchet Cents for free in some of their youth programs. 

 

DEFECTIVE DIE ERROR COINS

Coins seen with cracks or rough areas are usually the result of defective dies. Dies can become cracked, and the result is transferred to the coin blank. There are an endless number of minor errors caused in this manner, most of which have little value. Many of the email inquiries we receive are about coins struck from defective dies. 

CLIPPED PLANCHETS ERROR COINS

Clipped planchet errors are caused by the process mentioned above when blanks are punched from sheets of metal. The steel rods used to punch out blanks from a metal strip overlap a portion of the strip already punched. This error comes in an infinite variety, and values can depend on the nature and size of the clip. Again, the lower denominations are relatively common.

Clipped Planchet Error CoinsClipped Planchet Error Coins

MULTIPLE STRIKES COIN ERRORS

Multiple strikes errors occur when an already struck coin goes back into the coinage presses. These can be quite interesting and sometimes quite valuable. The presence of a date adds to the value as well. 

COIN LAMINATION ERRORS

Coin lamination errors are caused when a foreign substance contaminates the metal content of the coin blanks. Often dirt or oxides leach onto the surface of the struck coin. This type of error may slightly increase the value of a common coin but actually diminish the value of a rare coin. 

Lamination Mint ErrorLamination Mint Error

WRONG PLANCHET COIN ERROR

Wrong planchet coin errors are coins struck from a planchet intended for another denomination. There are often examples seen of Cents struck on Dime planchets, Nickels struck on Cents planchets, and so forth. Values depend on the type of error and the date of issue. Early coins stuck with this type of error can be quite valuable. One of the most famous error coins of all time is the 1943 Bronze Cent. In 1943 Cents were produced in steel to save copper for the war effort. About 12-15 examples are known that were made from leftover 1942 bronze planchets. 1943 Bronze Cents have sold for over 1 million dollars. Unfortunately, there are tens of thousands of counterfeit 1943 Bronze Cents, and new examples of genuine coins rarely appear.

Are Error Coins Valuable?

In general, the more dramatic the error, the more valuable the coin becomes. Also, the higher denomination coins are more valuable when found miss-struck. Because most mint errors are one of a kind- there is no standard price guide for this area of the market. Collectors may consider specializing in one type of error or buy as many different types of error coins as possible. For long-term appreciation, the most dramatic error coins of early vintage will probably do the best. 

 

To find out more about the world of error coins, you should consider buying a copy of 100 Greatest Errors Coins by David Camire and Nick Brown (Whitman Publishing). The book more fully explains how error coins come to be and lists 100 amazing and dramatic examples of United States coinage that have been miss-struck.

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