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Mint Errors

Written by Q. David Bowers, Chairman Emeritus

Author: Q. David Bowers / Friday, May 10, 2013 / Categories: From the Desk of Q. David Bowers
To err is human, to forgive divine, so the saying goes. In numismatics, to make a mistake, that is for a mint to strike a coin in the wrong way, is truly divine, with no forgiveness needed.

For many years the collecting of mint errors has been an important specialty. Years ago coins that were struck off center, or on the wrong planchet, or with some other mistake were commonly called “freaks.” This term recurs in various articles in The Numismatist, The Numismatic Scrapbook Magazine, and elsewhere. Then, beginning in a serious way in the 1950s, Michael Kolman, Jr., who conducted the Federal Coin Exchange in Cleveland, set about concentrating on these, exhibiting pieces at shows, and the like. In time they became known as mint errors. I recall when such pieces had relatively little value. At the Empire Coin Company, conducted by Jim Ruddy and me in Johnson City, New York, we often encountered off strikes and the like. We only had one customer for them, a man named Ed Lenga. If we found a Liberty Head nickel struck half off center we could usually buy it in the marketplace for only a little more than a regular nickel of the same date. In time, such pieces became costly. One of the most spectacular mint errors we ever had -- actually it was probably made deliberately -- was a Standing Liberty quarter that had been struck, then struck four more times, a little bit around each edge, I believe this was illustrated in one of our magazines.

This reminds me of one of the stories of Dick Yeoman, founding editor of A Guide Book of United States Coins. At a convention someone came up to him with a copy of the familiar red-covered book and showed it to him, stating that it had been bound upside down. Yeoman apologized and immediately said he would replace it. “Oh no! It is precious. I am very proud of it,” said the owner (or something similar).

It is interesting that mint errors as well as printing errors are in such great demand. Similar to coins, a dollar bill that has the serial number upside down or some other oddity is worth much more than a perfect one. This has few counterparts elsewhere in the world. An automobile that has a defect is a liability; a book (unless it is numismatic) that has pages missing or is printed incorrectly is not desired. In fact, few manufactured mistakes are. However, coins and paper money remain an exception. How interesting that is.