March 30, 2000
There has been a lot of numismatic press recently about high values being put on Statehood quarters with “rotated dies.”
“Rotated dies” is a very misunderstood term. It is a minor error which can occur on any coin in your pocket, yet few people notice it or understand it properly.
There are two types of die rotations, coin alignment and medal alignment.
Hold a coin by the edges at 3 and 9 o’clock with the design oriented properly towards you. Rotate the coin, top-to-bottom, to the reverse side while still holding the edge in the same two places. The reverse design is oriented completely 180 degrees from the obverse design. In other words, it is now properly oriented towards you. This is coin alignment. Check any coin in your pocket and this is what you should find.
Medal alignment is when the obverse and reverse designs are oriented identically. Any medal or token you may have will have this alignment.
Some Statehood quarters have a less-than perfect obverse-to-reverse die alignment. These are the errors making the headlines and getting premium values. You won’t typically encounter a quarter with full medal alignment, but you will find that when you flip the coin from obverse to reverse, it may not be a neat 180-degree opposite alignment of the dies.
Improper rotation of a die may occur either as a result of loose set screws that allow the die holder to turn or when the shank of the die breaks. If the shank of the die breaks, this allows the face to turn.
Regarding most circulation coins, a misalignment of perhaps 10 to 15 degrees is not enough to bring a premium value. There is so much interest in the Statehood quarters that such a small die rotation error may still bring a pretty good price.
The more spectacular the rotation, the more money it may bring. The most popular die rotations are 90 and 180 degrees. It may sound incredible, but die rotations are actually commonplace on many early US coins, especially the 1864 2-cent coin.
Misalignment values vary greatly regarding the date and denomination. Specialized books identifying these values have been published by error collectors. Error collectors have their own terms, which may be confusing to the rest of us. Misaligned and rotated strikes are generally classified as III-G among error collectors:
Let me provide a little more detail here. A III-G-1 is a coin struck in the collar with the upper die (obverse) set in an incorrect direction from the center of the opposite or reverse die.
A III-G-2 is a coin also struck in the collar, but the die is tilted to one side of the vertical axis, making the coin wedge-shaped.
The III-G-3 to III-G-5 rotated misalignment coins are struck with a die (typically the reverse die) rotated either clockwise (expressed as CW by error collectors) or counterclockwise (expressed as CCW) from the normal “coin” alignment to the opposing die. This is caused either by a loose die, a loose die holder or a broken shank. The premium state quarter errors fall into this III-G-3 to III-G-5 range.
The exciting part about die rotation errors is that, although attention is being drawn to those for Statehood quarters, virtually any coin in your pocket may have such a “problem.”
Rotated dies can be an exciting and profitable error to collect. Watch your change: you may have something more interesting than you think.
Richard Giedroyc is a numismatic writer, researcher, auction cataloger and coin dealer. He has been in the hobby and business most of his life, now having more than three decades’ experience in this fascinating hobby field. During this time Giedroyc has been the owner of Paris Bergman Galleries, owner of Classical Coin Newsletter, international editor of Coin World and owner of Giedroyc-Anderson Interesting World Coins. He is currently a numismatic consultant. He has written more than 2,000 byline numismatic stories and contributed to several coin catalogs.