Monday, June 14, 2010

Coin Monday: Flips and Trips

June 14, 2010
Written by John Dale

Error coin enthusiasts are one of the great traditions of U.S. numismatics, if a relatively recent phenomenon compared to, say, collectors of large cents. The two specialties are not completely separate, but intersect on occasion; after all, if 21st century Mint technology wasn’t enough to keep this proof Ohio Statehood quarter from looking like a saucer, what are the chances that things would be error-free in the late 18th century?

A pair of dramatic errors in the July 2010 Summer FUN Auction tell the tale. Error-free? Not even close.

Both of these errors are large cents dated 1796. The first, graded VG10 by NGC, shows the last two digits of the date three times, indicating three distinct strikes (at least!), and the date only appears on the obverse once. The other two appearances are on the back, or reverse, with one of them on the interior of the coin, not at the rim. The progression must have gone as follows: the first strike was off-center, the second strike centered, the coin flipped over, and finally a third strike on-target. The result is a terribly wrong yet oh-so-right coin, somewhere between an attractive curiosity and a beautiful trainwreck.

The second one, given an NGC Details grade of VF with a “Scratches” caveat, has an even more outrageous appearance. It too is a flip-over triple strike, though it isn’t listed as such. Evidence of the “missing strike” is visible on Liberty’s cap on the main (final) strike, in the form of the letters ST which don’t match where the word STATES would be on the presumed “other” strike; hence, there must have been a third impression of the dies.

While both coins have something clearly “off” about them on close inspection, this second example makes it obvious from the start with the left side of a wreath stretching down over the tip of Liberty’s bust on the obverse. The reverse, too, shows the error in all its flip-over glory as the top and right sides of a Liberty impression wrap themselves around the main wreath.

One place where the error and large cent specialties diverge is attitude. While errors give us valuable information about the minting process, much of their appeal comes from their inherent “freak factor” and their status as the Mint’s pratfalls. (An old-school way to refer to errors is “FIDOs,” or “Freaks, Imperfections, Defects, and Oddities.”) To a large cent collector, however, even an outrageous error like one of these two is not treated as a freak, but as an artifact to be treasured. In its early struggle-filled years, the Mint made many errors both on and off the coinage floor, but it persevered in the end. Because of that, collectors have more than 200 years of U.S. coinage history, a source of information and wonder—and yes, the occasional laugh.

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