COLLECTING MINT ERRORS
Despite the Quality Controll of the United States Mint, many mint errors--"fidos," or freaks, as they are called--reach circulation. Some errors are so tiny they can be seen only under a microscope. Others require a magnifying glass, and still others can be seen by the naked eye.
Error collecting has become popular because there is
not the pressure and expense of completing a series. The collector of mint errors never knows when one will turn up in circulation. Thus, every coin in his pocket change is a candidate. The large number of coins being minted helps rather than hinders the mint-error collector, for the chances of finding specimens are greater. Since the coin with the highest mintage is the one with the lowest denemination, the freak collector can amass a collection at little cost.
Unfortunately, some collectors look down on those who collect mint errors. This is unfortunate for two reasons. First, coin collecting is a hobby, and what you collect is nobody's business but your own. Secondly, mint errors are a very definite part of our coinage and thus are of historical as well as numismatic interest.
A brief description of how coins are minted will help you understand why and how errors occur. Let's start with the metals that go into the coins.
After the metals making up each alloy have been carefully weighed, they gre melted in an electric furnace. The alloy is then formed into thin bars. Checks along the way insure that the alloy is of the predetermined percentage.
Until 1964, dimes, quarters, and half dollars consisted of 90% silver and 10% copper. Legislation passed in the summer of 1965 makes the dimes and quarters silverless, and the half dollar will consist of only 40% silver. The cents and nickels remain the same; cents comprise 95% copper and 5% zinc; and nickels, 75% copper and 25% nickel.
The thin bars are then rolled into even thinner strips out of which round blanks, called planchets, are punched. After further processing to soften the blanks and to remove the stain left by the softening process, the coins are milled. The milling makes the edge thicker and the coin will last ' longer.
Presses now stamp the design on the front and back, each side being struck at the rate of 10,000 coins per hour. The final step is to put the reeding around the major coins. This reeding, around the rim, foils counterfeiters because it is difficult to do evenly. After being automatically counted and bagged, the coins are ready for circulation.
From the foregoing discussion, which you may have to review from time to.time, it is easy to see why mint errors can occur. Let's take the coins in chronological order, starting from the time when the blank planchets have been punched out and the coin is ready for the press. Remember the planchet is the round, blank disc from which the coin is pressed.
One error that can occur at this time is for the planchet to be counted and bagged without going through the press at all. The result is a blank planchet, which may or may not be milled. Mint-error collectors look for blank planch-ets when sorting through a bag of coins, since there is little chance that a blank planchet will be wrapped in a roll or reach ·circulation undetected.
Let's say the planchet does make it to the pressroom. What can go wrong now? Perhaps the wrong planchet reaches the wrong press. Thus, a silver planchet may be struck with a cent die, or a dim'e may be struck on a copper planchet. The result is an off-metal coin. Such coins are scarce. They are also illegal to own. Because they do not conform to specifications, they are considered counterfeit and the government will confiscate them.
As the blank planchets are being punched out, the cutting machine may partially punch the blank ahead of it. The resultant coin looks as though someone had taken & bite out of it. Such a coin is known as a clipped planchet, and some collectors exhibit them in the order of the size of the crescent which has been bitten off. Since it is easy for anyone to mutilate a coin so that it looks like a clipped planchet, such coins are not too expensive.
If the planchet is not centered in the press, a portion of its area will not receive a design. Sometimes the design is only slightly off-center. Sometimes it is so far off-center that most of the coin is blank. Such coins, too, can be displayed in the order of severity of the error.
If a coin that has just been struck does not clear the die, the die will descend again and punch the coin a second time. The blurred image produced is aptly known as a double exposure. The superimposed impression will be slightly or greatly off-center, depending on how much
of the coin escaped the second downward thrust of the die. These double-struck coins, as they are also called, can be exhibited in the order of their severity, like off- center coins.
Let's say a coin sticks in the die and a second coin is fed on top of it. The second coin receives the image from the die, of course, but its blank other side also receives the image of the struck coin. The result is an incuse mirror image, and the coin is known as brockage.
Sometimes the planchet does not sit flat so that the collar can contain it. When the die descends, the unrestrained edge will result in a thin coin with a rounded edge. The coin will resemble a pancake: high in the middle and tapering off around the edge.
In the past it was common practice to overstrike a new date over an old one. Rather than toss away an outdated but otherwise good working die, the Mint would punch a new digit over last year's. The coins produced from such a die would still show the image of the old date. This occurred with some 1942 Mercury dimes, the dates of which show a "2" superimposed over a "1."
An overstruck mint will be produced in the same way. A Mint employee may, for example, make one strike from the master die, discover that it is the wrong mint mark, and substitute the proper one without removing the partially punched old die. The resultant working die reproduces the overstruck mint mark on all coins struck from it.
Operating at 10,000 impressions per hour, dies do not last forever. The errors they produce as they break down but before they are replaced are sought by many collectors.
One defect is a die break, a crack in the die which picks up metal and deposits it on the coin. The most common die break produces lettering or dates which run together. Should the die fill up with scrap metal, part of the letter or date on the filled-die coin will be shallower than normal or will not appear at all.
As the die begins to ;show wear, it is often recut to sharpen its impression. A recut die produces a faint outline around the design.
Working dies are made by being repeatedly punched from the master die. If the working die is not clamped securely, it will shift around between punchings. It will then receive a ghost image of the profile, letters, design, and/or date. Any coins made from such a die will likewise have the same ghost image. The most famous double-die coin of recent years is the 1955 cent; its obverse lettering, profile, and date are all doubled. Uncirculated, it sells for over two-hundred dollars.
After the working die has been made, the mint mark is punched into it by hand before it is sent to the Denver Mint. The working die may shift around under the repeated punching and receive a ghost image of the mint mark alone. Any coins will likewise have a doubled mint mark only.
VARIATIONS IN COINS
Because producing the master die is largely handwork, the coinage produced during the year will show slight variations. This was truer with the crude processes of the past than it is today.
In 1960 the cent had a large date and a small date because two different sets of working dies were used. Some of the 1945 dimes produced by the San Francisco Mint had a small mint mark; this micro-S coin is sought by collectors.
OBSOLETE MINT ERRORS
Of course, mint errors are not confined to present-day issues. In fact, older coins showed many varieties because of the cruder mint processes of their day. Such errors can be collected, of course, but most collectors ignore them because of their cost. Most collectors restrict their efforts to current freaks, because every coin is a possible candidate for their collection.
A collection of mint errors is an interesting one, because few have ever seen a mint error. Moreover, in amassing a collection of freaks, the serious collector will be led to learn how coins are made.
A token is a coin issued by other than a government agency and usable for the
payment of goods or services. To most people, a token is what you hand the conductor
when you board a streetcar or bus. Yet, in the past thousands of tokens were issued
by merchants and accepted not only in the issuing merchant's store, but in all other
stores in the town. Today, such private coinage is prohibited, although advertising
tokens are still legal.
Tokens.are an enigma; most are inexpensive to buy, but hard to find. Those of you who enjoy treasure hunting will find tokens extremely challenging. You never know when and whereone will turn up. A casual remark may result in a gift of a long-sought-after token. A search through ddealer's "junkbox" often proves fruitful. Even the fact that most dealers ignore the token collector is not a calamity. It means you can substitute legwork for a fat wallet.
Thousands' of streetcar and bus companies existed at one time in thousands of
cities, towns, and hamlets all over the United States and the world. Most of them
issued a token good for one ride on its line. Over the years many went out of business
or were absorbed into bigger lines. Tokens from these defunct companies are much
sought after by collectors today, for many have become almost
extinct. Luckily, there are always individuals who put such tokens aside for nostalgic reasons. They are flattered that someone shares their interest, and the enterprising collector is often rewarded with another item for his collection.
Although lacking in beauty, transportation tokens are eagerly collected for their nostalgic value.
When the first sales-tax laws were passed many, many years ago, the tax was paid
with tokens rather than cash. The tokens were graduated in tenths of a cent, called
mills. Thus, if the tax were 2%, it would be paid on a ten-cent item with a 2-mill
token (or two 1-mill tokens). Such systems have been replaced by the cash system
with a minimum sale below which no tax is collected.
Sales-tax tokens also require diligent searching. A good place to look is in your dealer's "junkbox." Incidentally, they are even uglier than transportation tokens.
"HARD TIMES" TOKENS
The depression years of the late 1S30's and early 1840's were plagued by a shortage
of small change. To fill the gap, political organizations and merchants issued tokens.Many
of these so-called "Hard Times" tokens are bitingly satirical, but this
was their primary reason for being. These tokens were the size of the large cents
circulating at the time, and were freely accepted in lieu of one-cent pieces.
One token, attacking President Andrew Jackson, showed a turtle on the obverse. On the reverse was a donkey and the inscription:
"I FOLLOW IN THE STEPS OF MY ILLUSTRIOUS PREDECESSOR."
Unlike transportation and sales-tax tokens, many "Hard Times" tokens are as attractive as coins. Most are within reach of the average collector's pocketbook.
Merchants, too, saw an opportunity to alleviate the coin shortage and to do a little advertising besides. Although not too attractive, such tokens lend a bit of nostalgia to any collection.
During the Civil War, merchants issued tokens for use as small change; which had all but disappeared. Because of the war sentiment, many tokens were patriotic. Others were of the advertising type described above. Both were the size of the Indian head cent, which had superseded the large cent.
One token issued at the time closely imitated the Indian head cent, except the
inscription read "NOT ONE CENT"; the word "NOT" was de-emphasized
by having it in much smaller letters. Despite its protestation of not being a cent,
merchants accepted it as such.
"Hard Times" tokens resembled large cent of the time.
"Civil War ' patriotic tokens mirrored the war sympathy of their time.
TAKE THOSE WOODEN NICKELS!
The next time someone tells you "don't take any wooden nickels," tell
him he's missing out on an interesting phase of this most fascinating hobby. Wooden
nickels do exist, believe it or not. Moreover, they are quite inexpensive to collect.
Actually, they are advertising tokens and are still being issued. Since they inno
wayresemble coins, the government does not frown on their manufacture.
Most wooden nickels are issued by cities and towns celebrating an aniversary. They can be purchased from these cities or towns, or from dealers who specialize in them. Many coin stores carry them also.
Whether or not you specialize in wooden nickels, you should buy at least one for your collection. It never fails to provoke interest.
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