Posted on 5/14/2019
One of the most frustrating experiences for both submitters of coins to NGC and those of us who grade and/or attribute them is when a submitter opts to pay the additional fee for variety or mint error attribution and learns that the coin in question does not qualify as either. As a means of reducing such misunderstandings, we've written several tutorials that will be of benefit to both collectors and dealers in selecting which coins to submit for attribution. A link to these is found at the top of the VarietyPlus® home page, which is located under the "Resources" menu NGCcoin.com. Just click on the blue text.
The first of these tutorials is titled "What is a Variety?" The short definition found in the first paragraph states that a variety is "a die or die pairing that offers some distinctive feature not a normal part of the design." It goes on to explain how early United States coins are all of one variety or another, as the peripheral design elements were punched into each die by hand and thus vary in their relative positions. Coins struck after that period typically vary only their dates and mintmarks. Therefore, most dies will not qualify as varieties, and only those having unique features may be described as varieties. Also noted in this tutorial is the difference between those qualities that require VarietyPlus attribution and those that are applied as part of the normal grading process, such as Prooflike (PL), Full Bands (FB), Plus (+), Cameo, etc.
Since many submitters are uncertain about which odd features should be described as varieties and which are mint errors, NGC has a tutorial titled quite simply, "Variety vs. Mint Error." This notes the basic distinction that a variety is something found in the die and thus is repeated on each coin struck from that die, while a mint error typically is unique to a particular specimen. There is some overlap in these areas. For example, a major die break, popularly called a "cud," typically is attributed under NGC's Mint Error Service, even though this is a repeating feature. That's because they have been sought for decades by mint error collectors and are more associated with that field.
Among modern coins the most often submitted varieties are doubled dies. In many instances, however, these coins turn out to have common strike doubling, known also by the terms mechanical doubling, shelf doubling and machine doubling. This feature is rather common and carries no premium value, and submitters are far too often disappointed to learn that their coins do not have an attributable variety. Perhaps the most valuable of the several tutorials found at NGC's Variety Plus website is one titled "Attributing US Coin Die Varieties." This is an extensively illustrated guide to the types of varieties recognized by NGC versus those odd features on coins that will not receive variety attribution. It has examples of strike doubling and should be required reading for anyone submitting variety coins to NGC.
Finally, the VarietyPlus site includes complete, illustrated lists by coin types of all varieties recognized by NGC. These feature high quality photos and cross references. They also indicate which varieties NGC will attribute free of charge.