Loose Change: Profiting from Coin Minting Errors
For pros and amateurs alike, rummaging for “error coins” provides a consistent source of revenue. This Eisenhower dollar coin with clipped planchet sold for $98.99 in March 2018.
We regularly read about “average Joes” who find coins worth a small fortune in their change jars, dresser drawers, and pockets; for instance, the 1983 Lincoln cent that sold for $23,000; the 1988 Lincoln cent overstruck on a 1988 Roosevelt P dime that brought $1,438; the 2004 Wisconsin State quarter that garnered $18,000. Such stories are simultaneously entertaining and disheartening: their “wow” factor is usually offset by the thought “that would never happen to me.”
What’s overlooked in the re-telling of these tales is that coin dealers and collectors don’t stay in business by making only big scores. As with other antique and collectible dealers, their money is made by consistently selling at a profit, and occasionally nailing a big sale. Small sales can add up to big profits. For pros and amateurs alike, rummaging for “error coins” (those with minting errors) provides a consistent source of revenue. A few recent eBay error sales:
These three still-in-circulation coins with a face value of thirty-six cents, brought a return of $5600, a margin that antique dealers would die for. Collectors will be quick to point out, though, that I’ve omitted crucial information from the list above: I didn’t say what the errors were in the coins, how rare they were, their condition, what the dealers initially paid for them, or what the selling fees were. However, at some point, these coins were foraged by “average Joes” who knew what to look for and did so consistently. You can do the same thing. Before you dump a pocketful of change into a drawer or jar, take a minute to peruse the coins. With a little practice, you’ll get good at spotting errors, and over time you may accumulate a jar full of coins that will be worth a tidy sum (plus, it’s a fun hobby).
A key to becoming adept at spotting error coins is to first understand the minting process, and what sorts of things can go wrong. Though I don’t usually reference Wikipedia, their article Mint-made Errors serves as a useful hub for grasping what can go wrong at the Mint. Twenty-eight error types are listed, and links are given for further study of each type. There’s also an excellent video on YouTube showing the coin minting process.
Of the twenty-eight error types listed, five common (and easy to spot) are:
1. CUD error: A cud is a damaged area resembling a blob on the surface of a coin. The cud is raised above the field, and obscures whatever is stamped under it. Cuds are the result of severe die cracks, chips, or breaks.
2. Double profile: The profile appears to have a “shadow” image around the primary image. This is a striking error.
3. Double die: Numbers are doubled, as if the die was out of position, which is exactly how this happens.
4. Broadstrike: A coin that is not centered (struck outside the retaining ring, or coin edge).
5. Clipped planchet: A coin appears to have a “bite” taken out of it. This is caused by a mis-feed in cutting of the coin blanks (planchets).
In my opinion, the best error coin reference is “Strike It Rich with Pocket Change: Error Coins Bring Big Money” by Ken Potter and Brian Allen.
While you acquire and study the references, here’s a method you can use today to get started foraging through your coins:
- Bright light
- 10x magnifying glass or jeweler’s loupe
- soft cloth
- Group coins by denomination
- Inspect each group separately (by denomination). This method will enable you to quickly spot irregularities.
- Inspect the same side of each coin in a group, then turn each coin upside down (top to bottom, not side-to-side) and inspect the opposite side. In a properly made coin, the back will be upside-down when you flip it, not skewed to the side.
- You’ve no doubt seen a lot of coins. Does anything appear to be irregular? Are the portrait and number edges cut cleanly? Is the design straight, or off-center?
- Set aside any coins that appear to have irregularities for closer inspection
If you’re going to forage for error coins, you’d better get started. The U.S. Mint claims that their error rate is has dropped precipitously in the past ten years. In a December 2014 press release titled Superior Manufacturing Reduces Errors, the Mint claimed:
“…the Mint has developed a scoring system to rate its own coins. The Mint Quality Index (MQI) describes…a weighted scale that targets 100 as a perfect score and measures “minor,” “major” and “critical” defects. This number was 74.9 for circulating coins in 2007; 2014 saw the combined Denver and Philadelphia circulating MQI reach in excess of 99.3. Finding circulating error coins was never easy to begin with and, thanks to the talented people at our Philadelphia and Denver facilities, finding these coins has gotten even harder.”
That’s good news for collectors; though finding new coins with errors might be more difficult, the value of the error coins they have may go up substantially.
Wayne Jordan is a Virginia-licensed auctioneer, Certified Personal Property Appraiser and Accredited Business Broker. He has held the professional designations of Certified Estate Specialist; Accredited Auctioneer of Real Estate; Certified Auction Specialist, Residential Real Estate and Accredited Business Broker. He also has held state licenses in Real Estate and Insurance. Wayne is a regular columnist for Antique Trader Magazine, a WorthPoint Worthologist (appraiser) and the author of two books. For more info, check out Wayne’s blog at SellMoreAntiques.com.
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