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Mint Error or Die Variety?

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Early on in my coin collecting career, I recall being in a small coin shop in Upstate New York. I remember staring at a 1955 Double Die Lincoln Cent my father was considering purchasing for his type album. He wouldn't settle for just any coin to fill his collection-it had to be a semi-key or better for the series. The dealer behind the counter said to my dad, "This example has the biggest separation of details compared to any other example I've ever seen. I have not owned a nicer example with such a spread from the first strike to the second." My father smiled and agreed with how nice the strike was. He then handed the man back his coin, and we departed the store without purchasing anything. On our way home, I asked him why he chose not to purchase the coin. I'll never forget the lesson learned on that ride home, as my dad explained to me the difference between a 'mint error' and a 'die variety.'

An error is a mechanical (machine) malfunction of some sort. Meaning, the machine itself jumped, bumped, slipped, turned, tilted, vibrated, or one of probably a hundred things that could go wrong during the striking process. Each malfunction that causes an error is unique, and, with a little research and understanding, is recognizable. Some may be very similar, but a striking error is always technically unique to the strike, which makes every error unique.

Some examples of errors are:

  • Off-centers
  • Rotated Dies
  • Struck Throughs
  • And Double Struck Coins.

The opposite is what makes a die variety. This is when the actual die has some kind of unique characteristic that is repeated exactly, or progressively, among multiple coin strikings. Just about every series has its own unique traceable die varieties. VAMS, Overtons, Cherry Pickers (Fivaz/Stanton), Snow, and Sheldon are just some of the well-documented, published, and recognized die variety series.

Some die variety examples are:

  • Re-engravings
  • Over Polishings
  • Repunched Mint Marks/Dates
  • And Die Cracks.

During that ride home, I learned how the 1955 Double Die Lincoln cent was a die variety and not an error. The coins were all struck from the same die-none of them could have any more or any less doubling than another example. They are not struck two times; they are struck only one time, but the die that struck them mistakenly has two dates and lettering, causing a mistake during the manufacturing process. After hearing the suspicious sales tactic of the shop owner, my dad knew it was best to smile and walk away. Not only was it a smart decision for my father, but it also became an early career lesson I will never forget.

Coin Collecting: Basics Errors

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