Jeff Garrett: Collecting Error Coins

Posted on 11/14/2019

How to get comfortable in this challenging and fascinating corner of numismatics.

My daily assortment of emails contains quite a few inquiries about rare coins and coin collecting. People run across a news article, or something I have written about, and think they might have something of value. Over the years, some amazing things have surfaced, and I am careful to respond to every correspondence. My recently purchased hoard of 13,000 Morgan silver dollars started with such an email. The “Antiques Roadshow” aspect of what I do for a living makes every day potentially exciting!

Unfortunately, however, about 90% of the emails I receive are from people who think they might have a rare coin, and it is my job to disappoint them. One of the most frequent inquiries is about the much-misunderstood subject of mint errors.

Seldom does a day go by that I do not receive an email or call about mint errors. This morning, a lady called because she had heard that a rare 1975 Roosevelt Dime had sold for over $100,000. She is correct, but I needed to then explain to her the difference between a Proof 1975 Roosevelt Dime without a mintmark and the common coin she had that was only worth a dime. It took some convincing and patience on my part.

Common mint errors

For the majority of Americans, finding a coin with a mint error is extremely exciting and seemingly like hitting the lottery. That’s because most have no idea how common minor mint errors are, and they find it hard to believe otherwise. Examples of common US mint errors are as follows:

  • Off-center – An off-center mint error can range from slightly off-center to nearly off the planchets. Until the last decade or so, these were seen quite often on lower denomination coinage and worth just a few dollars each.
  • Blank planchets – These mint errors are incredibly common, and cents can be purchased for just a few dollars.
  • Die breaks – Die breaks are very common on early coinage and usually do not bring a premium.
  • Cuds – These are caused when a portion of the die breaks off, and part of the design is obscured.
  • Missing letters – Missing letters are usually caused by grease or foreign material on the dies.
  • Clipped planchets – With clipped planchets, the planchets are punched out incorrectly, and portions of the design are missing. These are very common.

Common mint errors (clockwise from top left): off-center, blank planchet, die break/cud, missing letters and clipped planchet
Click image to enlarge.

The Guide Book of United States Coinage (known as the “Red Book”) has a wonderful section in the back of the book devoted to the subject of mint errors. This guide book will give you an idea of the most commonly seen errors and their values.

Major mint errors

Major mint errors are another matter and are highly collectible. Some have sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars in recent years. One of the most famous mint errors of all time is the 1943 Bronze Cent. These coins were struck by mistake during World War II when the country was producing Cents in steel to preserve copper for shell casings.

1943 Bronze Cent graded NGC MS 62 BN
Click images to enlarge.

The 1943 Bronze Cent is also one of the most counterfeited coins of all time. There are thousands and thousands of copper-plated steel cents in private hands. This means that every time one of the real mint errors makes the news for being sold for six figures, the phones ring off the hook in coin shops around the country.

Whitman Publishing produced a book several years ago about major mint errors. The 100 Greatest Error Coins by Nick Brown, Fred Weinberg and Dave Camire (NGC) chronicles the amazing world of great mint errors that slipped out the doors of the US Mint over the years. Some of the most famous and spectacular pieces include:

  • 2000 Washington Quarter/Sacagawea Dollar Mule
  • 1968 and 1975 Roosevelt Dimes Proof No-S
  • 1906 Indian Cent struck on gold planchet
  • 1993-D Lincoln Cent Mule with Roosevelt Dime Reverse
  • 1995-P Roosevelt Dime Mule with Lincoln Cent Obverse
This Washington Quarter/Sacagawea Dollar Mule sold for $102,000 (USD) in a 2019 Heritage Auctions sale.
Click images to enlarge.

Watch for counterfeits, study and start small

As confusing as the subject of mint errors is for the average individual, the problem has been compounded in recent years by a proliferation of counterfeit mint errors that are being sold on the internet and elsewhere. Counterfeiters are producing an array of complicated mint errors using the same dies they use to make standard fakes. I have seen double-struck Morgan dollars, off‐center colonials, off‐metal Seated coinage… just about everything you can think of fabricating!

A genuine 1955 Doubled Die Obverse Lincoln Cent (left) versus a counterfeit 1955 Double Die Obverse Lincoln Cent (right)
Click images to enlarge.

The world of mint errors is an excellent study of the coining process, as you can learn a lot about how coins are actually made. You will need to do your homework, however, to determine what to pay for error coins. There are no real price guides, and as I have mentioned many times in previous articles, you should find an expert to assist you in this (or any) complicated part of the market. It is also essential to buy NGC-certified coins because even experts have difficulty authenticating mint errors these days.

Oftentimes, mint errors may seem undervalued considering the rarity of major errors. The good news is that you can start with inexpensive coins that are very interesting and work your way up as your knowledge increases. So, the next time you find a strange coin in circulation, keep in mind that you might not get rich, but you will have the chance to discover a fascinating corner of numismatics.

Related links

Learn more about mint errors in NGC’s Learn Grading series: What Is a Mint Error? – Part 1 and What is a Mint Error? – Part 2.

See NGC’s gallery of Mint Errors: Spectacular NGC-certified Errors.

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