Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Coin Errors

by Anita Mae Draper

I freely admit that I am a numismatist - a collector of coins, medals, paper money, etc. Except I'm leery of collecting paper money because it's so easy to burn. And medals in this case are medallions and not the medals you wear on your chest. But the appeal of stamped or pressed pieces of metal have appealed to me since I found my first old coin, a 1916 penny. I remember the occasion clearly, too...

I was in Grade 7 so around 12 yrs old and I was walking to the bakery near our house in Winnipeg, Manitoba. As usual, I walked with my head down. Sometimes I read a book while walking, but on this occasion I didn't have anything to read. Keeping my head down served 2 purposes.

First, I didn't have to look at anyone walking toward me. This sounds silly now, but I was rather shy as a young girl and prayed I wouldn't pass anyone one the street. Sometimes I did and then I never knew where to look because the sky would surely fall if I looked at them and they looked back at me. *shudder*

Second, I often found a penny or nickel when I walked along with my head down. And that's how I found my first old penny. It was a 1916 U.S. cent and I still have it in my collection. It was old instead of bright shiny new. But what intrigued me was that it was different from our Canadian maple leaf pennies. That foreign (to me) coin started my small collection which now includes tokens.

About a month ago when we celebrated our 1000th blogpost here at the Inkwell, we decided each of us blog members would give out a prize from our locale. To me, it was a natural choice to give coins that were minted right here in my province, Saskatchewan. But they couldn't just be any coins or tokens, they had to be different. So in my gift will include the two different tokens you see on the right.

Also called medallions, they have no dollar value like Municipal Trade Tokens because they weren't sold to raise money for municipal projects. Tokens were usually given free to celebrate an event which in this case was Saskatchewan's 50th anniversary as a province.

Now look closely at the horse's tail in the top one and then the bottom one. As you can see, the bottom one doesn't have a tail. This token is an error. Generally, coins or tokens with errors are worth more than those without but it depends on which is rarer.

So the winner of my little assortment of coins and tokens will receive one token with a tail and one without.

That got me thinking about all the people who don't know they could be carrying error coins in their pocket change. It happens in every mint in every country and to prove it, I wanted to show you a very small sample.

Let's look at a 1937 U.S. nickel because that's the first one I remember noticing. Not that I every found one. I wish I did, though because they're worth upwards of U.S. $500 since there are so few around.

The first 2 photos are taken of my own 1937 Buffalo nickel without a flash, hence the gray color compared to the more natural color on the 3 photo.

Do you see the error on the buffalo side of the coin? Count the legs.

The error is in the bottom photo where the front right leg is missing. This happened during minting when the die deteriorated and stopped pressing/punching that first leg. So it looks like a 3-legged buffalo.

If we stick to U.S. money for a moment, you can find many errors in the State quarter series. They include:
Minnesota: an extra tree (doubled die error)
Nevada: poop on the horse's leg (die chip)
Nebraska: Chimney rock with side boulder (die chip)
Kansas: Weakly struck 'T' in Trust (struck through grease)
Kansas: Tethered bison (die crack)
South Dakota: Bumps on pheasants's beak, base of neck and back of head like an antennae (die chips)
South Dakota: Halo effect on pheasant's head (die dent)
South Dakota: lower 8’s partially filled
Wisconsin: Extra Leaf
There are lots more in this series.

Consider also the Presidential dollar series which is riddled in problems with the incused writing on the rim:
- missing lettering
- upside down lettering
- double lettering
- Zachary Taylor with 2009 and at least one 2010 date

This series has numerous cracks from deteriorating dies such as the die crack below Lady Liberty's chin and the die crack that makes and extra spike in Liberty's crown.

A similar die deterioration happened with the 24 quarters in the Canadian 1999 and 2000 millenium series. In fact, I have about 10 coins in a row where you can see the die deteriorate to such an extent that each stamping produced less of the design until part of it was missing completely.

Other Canadian coins with errors are the $2 coins we call Twoonies. Here is a normal $2 coin. Look at the mountain ridge in the background... it's one smooth line.

However, a die clash created an extra mountain as in this next photo. It is sometimes seen as a smaller dark shadow as well.

Another country with minting errors is France where there's an extra feather in the rooster's tail for one year of their coins back in the middle of the 20th century. For more errors, check your local library for coin books - American, Canadian and other countries.

So what does all this mean? Absolutely nothing if you're not a collector because money is money by virtue of it's face value whether it has an error or not.

When you bring a $1.00 coin to the bank you'll receive 4 quarters for it. If you use your $1.00 coin to buy something for 50 cents at the store, you'll get 50 cents in change.

If you bring a 1937 buffalo nickel to the bank they'll take it as a nickel no matter how many legs that buffalo has on it. It's up to you to know if that nickel is worth 5 cents or $500. And if it doesn't matter to you, then that's fine too.

I once had a 1976 Canadian error nickel that I sold on eBay for $2 because it had a die chip that joined the top of the 6 to the stem of a maple leaf. That's a good profit. Yet I've missed that coin and wish I hadn't sold it.

Why? Because it was flawed. It reminded me that even with money's power, it's not perfect. It may have a face value on it, but the design and content can make it more or less valuable that what it says. In other words, money can't be trusted and it'll let you down if you put your faith in it because it's not always what it seems.

What do you think of the State Quarters, Presidential Dollar, Millenium Quarters, Olympic Coins and National Park series?

Anita Mae Draper is retired from the Canadian Armed Forces and lives on the prairie of southeast Saskatchewan, Canada with her hubby of 30 plus years and 2 of their 4 kids. She writes stories set on the prairies of Saskatchewan, North Dakota, Montana and Wyoming. Anita Mae has semi-finaled in the Historical Romance category of the ACFW's 2011 Genesis contest and finaled in the Inspirational category of the 2011 Daphne du Maurier, the 2011 Fool for Love, the 2011 Duel on the Delta and 2009 Linda Howard Award of Excellence contests. Anita Mae is represented by Mary Keeley of Books and Such Literary Agency. You can find Anita at http://www.anitamaedraper.com/ 


  1. Oooh, Anita, I love your final analogy. Very clever! This is such a fun, yet interesting post. I am a collector, too, but I know next to nothing. I have some Mercury dimes (I think that's what they're called), and lots of old pennies.
    I didn't know about all the state quarter errors. I like the presidential coins, but I miss the Sacajawea with her baby. It's so sweet and lovely. I heard they discontinued it. Do you know if that's true?

  2. My grandfather was a collector so I grew up looking but I never knew of tthese die problems. I certainly am a minor player in this hobby. I just this week saw a new design on a coin and I think it was a new nickel or penny. That proves i can't be called a numismatist!

    Thanks Anita!

  3. Thank you, Suzie. Yes, there are mercury dimes.

    And I believe when they introduced the Sacajawea 'golden dollar' back in 2000, legislation was introduced that the coin be manufactured every year. The government can't stop making it or they'll be breaking the law.

    In Sep 2007 the Native American $1 Coin Act specified the obverse would show scenes of Native American culture instead of the eagle. The new coins designs began as such:
    2009 - a Native woman planting corn
    2010 - a Hiawatha belt around arrows
    2011 - 2 hands holding a peace pipe

    The newly designed dollars also have the incused lettering similar to the Presidential dollars.

    There are known errors with the Sacagawea coins:
    - the first coins tarnished easily when put into circulation and a special wash was needed stop the process
    - some early Sacagawea dollars were struck with the state quarter on the obverse
    - some early Sac's are purported to have what they call 'cat's eye but I've never been able to see the difference
    - during 2000, the Mint and General Mills went into partnership to raise publicity by putting Lincoln cents and Sacagawea dollars in boxes of cereal. Approx 5,500 of the golden dollars were included but unlike the cents which were dated 2000, the dollars were all early strikes and can be distinguished by the number of tail feathers on the eagle
    - some of the incused lettering is weak or missing
    - from a collecting standpoint, 2008 had the lowest mintage of all the years to date

    And yes, Suzie, I really like the Sac dollars as well. One of the first things I do when I go down to the U.S. is get a handful and use them while I'm there. And yet I'm amazed at the suprised looks when I hand them over to store clerks.

  4. Oh man, I'm going to have to get my daughter to dig out her state quarter collection and check them all for boo-boos!
    What a fun post, Anita Mae!

  5. I just this week saw a new design on a coin and I think it was a new nickel or penny.

    Oh Deb, I'm laughing. Anyone that can't tell the difference between a brown cent and a silverish nickel is pretty bad off because no matter what the design, the colors and sizes stay the same, right?

    Wrong. During WW2 there was a metal shortage because of the need for armaments. Most countries switched their coin content from copper, nickel and brass, etc, to a cheaper alloys.

    Canadian nickels from that era contain:
    Normal 1942 & before - nickel
    1942 - brass alloy (copper and zinc)
    1943-1945 - chromium plated steel

    The American nickels from the same era contain:
    normal 1942 & before - 75% copper & 25% nickel
    1942-1945 - 56% copper, 35% silver, 9% manganese
    Apparently the properties of silver hadn't been discovered to the extent we use the metal today

    When I was getting my 1937 Buffalo nickel out the other day, I found a silver colored U.S. penny. I grew quite excited until I realized it was dated 1943. Here is the wartime compostions for U.S. cents:
    normal 1942 & prior - bronze
    1943 - steel coated zinc
    1944 & later - 95% copper, 5% zinc

    Yes, the ones with steel are a lighter weight and have a lighter color and the ones with brass have a yellowish coloring.

    So, I'm not laughing too hard because money changes color with different compositions.

    But don't leave me hanging, Deb...
    what was the new design?

  6. Oh yes, Niki, please do. Part of the fun of collecting is finding that one special one that's different from the rest.

    I don't spend the hours I'd like with my collection, but some evenings when the family is watching TV, I'll sit there with a bunch of change, a magnifying glass and a coin guide book and I'll scrutinize for errors. Well, except when Castle is on. That takes my complete attention. :)

    Niki, give your daughter my email address. If she shows interest and shoots me an email, I'll send her links to sites that show different errors and stuff.

  7. Anita, you are a wealth of information. I'm simply fascinated, and I think you should write a mystery element surrounding coins into one of your books.

  8. I remember there was a big fuss a while back about 20 pence coins here in England which had errors on them. The fuss came about because the ones with mistakes on were rare and sought after and so valuable, there is even a story of one person who sold one of said coins on Ebay for thousands of pounds.

  9. Suzie, I would love to but so far an actual plot hasn't defined itself. One of these days... :)

  10. Oh yes, Anna. That happens quite often.

    Right now on ebay there are many 1937 3-legged buffalo coins. They range from US $295 to $2000. Possibly higher as that was only the 1st page.

    One thing however, I'm no expert and I haven't taken an numismatic courses, but I am very suspect of the $295 one. It could very well be authentic, but it isn't in a certified slab. And the dark spot where the 4th leg ought to be may have been caused by a dremel or some other small grinding tool. I'm probably wrong, but I'm just sayin'.

    And for reference, Anna, US $1000 equals 623.25 British pounds at the time I'm typing this.

    Now, about that 20 pence coin... I have several but haven't checked for errors yet. Hmmm... thanks for stopping by... always a pleasure to see you here... I'd stay longer but I have to... uh ... check something... :D

  11. With a grand total of 72 hours on the train, I'm sure we can brainstorm a plot or two. ;-)

  12. Anita, I will be sure to do that! Who knows what we might find! : )

  13. LOL Suzie, I'm so looking forward to it. I actually have an idea brewing based on one particular piece. But I need a special story to go with it, so yes, I'll bring it with me and then, we'll brainstorm.

    But you'd better bring a problem or two that needs storming too, eh.

  14. Excellent, Niki. I love helping someone find a treasure in their midst. :)

  15. I just realized that blogger allows us to email notification of follow-up comments again. Yay!


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