Dr. Sol Taylor

Collecting Mint Errors and Varieties

By Dr. Sol Taylor
"Making Cents"
Saturday, May 24, 2008

any collectors of coins today seek out the unusual or even strange mint-made errors — double-struck coins, coins only partially showing on a blank planchet, or in paper money, two different denominations on the same note such as a $1 front and a $5 back.
    Perhaps 50 years ago, such serious collecting was limited to a very small group of collectors. However, the numbers have expanded greatly as specialty books have been published on the various forms of mint errors (basically mechanical mistakes) and mint varieties (basically a die change that's different from the regular production dies).
    In the February issue of ErrorScope, the official publication of CONECA (Collectors of Numismatic Errors), there was an article regarding an error coin collector in 1921. Since CONECA was celebrating its 20th anniversary in February, the year 1921 was absolutely well before the popularity of collecting mint errors. In fact, older catalogs rarely offered any mint-error coins for sale.
    The story refers to an article in a 1921 issue of the American Numismatic Association's monthly journal, "The Numismatist," in which collector Douglas N. Starr had acquired some 200 "imperfect" coins ranging from an 1806 half dollar to dimes and pennies in 1907. Ray Baker, director of the U.S. Mint in 1921, asked Mr. Starr to sell his collection to the Treasury Department where they would be "cancelled as worthless." He refused.
    From the limited descriptions, it seems the coins were mostly off-center strikes, partially double-struck, and other errors not specified. The word "freak" was often applied to such coins until more recent years when "error" was more commonly used.
    It was suggested by Mr. Baker that a law should be passed to make owning such "freaks" illegal and subject to confiscation.
    No such legislation ever got off the floor and would not be enforceable even if passed. In 1921 it was very unusual for a coin collector even to consider a mint error as a collectible coin. That aspect of coin collecting did not become popular for another 40 or 50 years.
    In the New York Times, a small news story dated Aug. 23, 2000, reported the arrest of Mint employee David D'Angelo who, over a period of time, had acquired hundreds of misstruck coins and secreted them out of the Mint. It was charged that he sold them for $80,000. The misstruck coins often were found on the floor of the Mint and in the sorting trays which culled out oversized and undersized coins.
    In the ErrorScope issue were two large ads from Fred Weinberg and Mike Byers indicating they are major buyers of Mint errors and varieties. Byers had a list of some 45 items ranging in price from $15,000 to $100,000 — indicating the wide range of value for unusual and rare Mint errors such as a 25 percent off-center Morgan dollar and a Washington quarter struck on a steel one-cent planchet.
    The variety is almost endless. Error collectors now have specialty books, coin shows devoted just to errors and varieties, and specialty clubs in various aspects of collecting errors and varieties. For more on this field, go to CONECA.com.

    Dr. Sol Taylor of Sherman Oaks is president of the Society of Lincoln Cent Collectors and author of The Standard Guide to the Lincoln Cent. Click here for ordering information.