Amazing Cud Error With Matching Die Steel Revealed

"When he showed me both the coin with the cud and the matching piece of die steel, I was amazed!"

Serendipity is a marvelous thing. A few weeks ago I happened to be in downtown Chicago, and naturally stopped in at the coin shop that I retired from after 21 years, Harlan J. Berk, Ltd. While there I just happened to be asked a question, about a coin that a customer was considering, which I answered. The customer and I then began talking as one collector to another, and it led to my viewing one of the most amazing errors I have seen in almost 50 years of studying error coins!

First of all we discovered that the collector (who wishes to remain anonymous at this time) had an interest in error coins, and had been an avid reader of Coin World’s Collectors Clearinghouse back in the 1970s. I had worked for Clearinghouse from 1974 to 1978, and was editor of the page for my last two years there.

Talking about the 70s reminded him that back in 1975 he had obtained a mint-sewn bag of 1975-D cents through a local bank, and in going through it looking for errors had found one piece with a really nice die cud on it. He then floored me by saying that he also had the piece of steel that had broken out of the die to cause the cud!

My jaw dropped. I had never heard of such a thing existing! I wondered if perhaps it might have been a piece of scrap steel that had been struck into the coin and then fallen out, which I have seen before. He assured me that the piece of steel was part of the die, with incused and reversed letters from the word LIBERTY in it. I practically begged him to let me see it, and we made an appointment to meet in the store two days later.

When he showed me both the coin with the cud and the matching piece of die steel I was amazed! I said “Wow!” As someone who has handled five 1804 Silver Dollars at various times, and has held all five 1913 Liberty Nickels in my hand at the same time, I am not easy to impress. I was impressed!

The cud was larger than I had imagined. As you can see from the pictures, it is shaped like an elongated football and includes the “IN GO” of IN GOD WE TRUST, the “LIBERT” of LIBERTY, and a bit of the back of Lincoln’s head. A quick look in The Cud Book by Sam Thurman and Arnold Margolis (1997) shows that the cud cent itself is known, and listed as LC-75D-2A. A later die state with a small extra bit of die metal broken away at the bottom of the football is listed as variety LC-75D-2B.

1975-D Cent with a large bulge, or cud, on the left side of the obverse
where the piece of die steel shown broke away from the die.
The die kept striking coins until a press operator stopped the press.

However, the amazing thing is not the error cent, but the chunk of die steel that came with it. It is unquestionably genuine. I have handled intact US coining dies before while on various tours of the US Mints, as well as owned one of the cancelled 1996 Olympic Silver Dollar dies (which are mostly intact), and I know what die steel looks like. This is it.

The fragment is somewhat lens shaped, approximately 12.5 mm long by 6 mm wide. For comparison a cent is 19.1 mm wide. It is thickest in the middle, at its greatest slightly more than 1 mm. The design side is normal for the face of a die. Along the side adjacent to the channel in the die that forms the raised rim on the normal coins, you can see the polished outer circumference of the original, intact die. The channel and edge below the "L" of LIBERTY is missing, and may have crumbled away before the large piece broke out of the die.

Obverse and underside of the die steel fragment.
Note the unexplained curved waves parallel to the interior die break
suggestive of a casting flaw in the steel.
Click images to enlarge.

In the rough metal surface of the underside of the fragment, along the curve away from the rim, there are two concentric swales in the broken surface that are perhaps related to the metallurgical flaw that doomed the die. They are not concentric to the outside curve of the die, as I might otherwise have expected. Immediately after the second swale the metal turns suddenly towards the face of the die and the fragment ends. When the broken die struck this coin, and obviously others since the cud is listed, the metal in the planchet swelled up into the void leaving the raised lump typical of the error. Some collector, lost to antiquity, decided it looked like a cud of tobacco (or perhaps the cud that a cow chews; nobody really knows) giving the error its nickname. A more proper name would be “major die break strike,” but hardly anybody uses that, so “cud” it is.

On the opposite side of the coin there is a large depression with most of the corresponding design missing, except for a bit of the lower left corner of the Lincoln Memorial that started to form in the initial moment of the strike before being dragged down into the abyss. This opposing depression is typical of a coin with a large cud, as the metal in the planchet takes the path of least resistance during the strike, and flows into the one large hole rather than many small ones.

The surfaces of the raised area on the obverse and the depressed area on the reverse are typical of the surface of a blank planchet, which is normal since neither area was struck by either die. I did check the raised area for any indication that it might have kissed the rough bottom of the void in the die, since we are in a unique situation to know what the surface of the broken area looks like, but it did not bulge that deeply. There is one tiny scrape on the bulge presumably incurred when the mis-shapen coin went through a coin counter at the Mint.

The million-dollar question is, how did the die fragment go through the coin counter as well? It is so small that it should have fallen through the riddler at the output end of the coin press. Basically the riddler is a series of vibrating plates with holes in them. The upper plate has holes just large enough to pass a normal coin through it, while retaining most oversized striking errors above it so they can be diverted for remelting. The lower plate has holes just slightly smaller than the coins, to allow incomplete planchet coins and stray metal fragments to fall through it and be remelted, while the normal coins stay atop the plate.

This die fragment may have ridden the flow of struck coins through the chamber between the two plates, surfing along atop one or more coins until it reached a hopper. Then it passed through a counting machine with the coins, and against all odds ended up in a bag with one of the error strikes.

The only other possible explanation is that the fragment separated from the die just as it was striking the last non-error coin that die made, and as the obverse die retracted from the coin the piece of die steel adhered to the (essentially normal) coin it had just struck. There are many errors known that resulted from a coin adhering to a die, so it is not inconceivable that a die fragment may have adhered to a coin.

The interlocking of the positive and negative lettering may have held the fragment in place while the coin traversed the riddling and counting processes, only to fall off into the bag as the sewn bag was tossed around in storage and distribution. Curiously, the collector himself did not find the fragment. After he had finished looking at the coins his brother happened to shake the empty bag, and the fragment fell out. Fortunately he gave it to the collector, and did not simply throw it away.

The collector stapled the coin and die fragment into a 2x2 holder, and after showing it to one dealer at a coin show (who obviously knew nothing about error coins) put it away for three-eighths of a century. Then a chance conversation with somebody who did know something about errors brought the coin to light. Ah, Serendipity!

Pictured above right is the original canvas Denver Mint bag that the cut cent and die fragment came out of. Shown are a few rolls of an unrelated lesser error, coins struck from a clashed and heavily overpolished pair of dies that the collector kept from the bag.

Error specialists Fred Weinberg, Dave Camire, Bill Fivaz and Mike Diamond have informed me that they are unaware of the existence of any similar cud coin with matching die fragment being known. Weinberg offered the following comment, "I'm not aware of any such item existing (a) cud and die fragment which caused the cud die break. What a pair of numismatic items! It's spectacular and an impressive educational tool to show what can occur, and go wrong in the minting process. We can thank the lucky collector who found both items in the mint-sewn bag — the die fragment might have been overlooked by someone else!"

1975-D 1C Die Break & Die Fragment
A totally unprecendented discovery in the error coin field.
A 1975-D Cent struck from a die with a large portion
of the design mising due to a major die break, and the actual piece
of die steel missing from the die during the strike!
Many other such "cud" coin errors are known, but until now
nobody has ever seen the piece of steel that caused it!
Click images to enlarge.

Dave Camire, added, "In all my years of collecting, grading and researching (for the Top 100 U.S. Greatest Error Coins book), I have never heard of or seen an error of this type. It is really say the least."

Diamond has seen one Washington quarter struck from a badly cracked obverse die that appears to have a tiny fragment of die steel struck into the coin, but no design is visible on the fragment. I strongly believe that this matched pair of a large die fragment and a cud coin struck from the remnant of the die is unique!

Photos courtesy of Dave Camire of NCS and Andrew Steiner of Harlan J. Berk, Ltd.

The thoughts and opinions in the piece are those of their author and are not necessarily the thoughts of the Certified Collectibles Group.

Articles List