Coin damage is an unavoidable reality of coin collecting and investing. However, not all coin imperfections are the same. Some deformities significantly detract from a coin’s value while some celebrated flaws increase a coin’s price and demand. Being able to distinguish between types of coin imperfections is a learning process for investors and coin collectors.
Coin Damage vs Mint Errors
Coin imperfections are typically divided into two categories: coin damage and mint errors. Coin damage refers to any physical harm incurred after coinage leaves the mint. This includes standard wear and tear as well as natural corrosion. Alternatively, mint errors are anomalies that occur during the minting process. These rare mistakes such as double strikes, off-center strikes, or blank planchets occur before coins enter circulation, unlike generic coin damage.
Most damage that occurs outside the mint reduces a coin’s value because investors prefer coins as close to their original state as possible. On the other hand, mint errors can significantly boost a coin’s value. It might seem paradoxical, but these one-in-a-million irregularities increase a coin’s scarcity, uniqueness, and demand – all factors that drive up the price of coinage. When it comes to coin investing, a flaw isn’t always a fault; sometimes, it’s a fortune.
Types of Coin Damage
Bag marks are one of the most common forms of coin damage. This impairment occurs when recently minted coins are tossed into large sacks to be delivered to different banks for eventual circulation. The inevitable contact between coins results in scratches, dings, and scrapes. While not usually severe, bag marks can negatively impact a coin’s value.
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Wear and Tear
Most coin damage is caused by standard wear and tear. While in circulation, a coin is constantly handled, knocked against other coins, dropped on the floor, and subjected to a range of other sources of deterioration. These stressors gradually take a toll on a coin’s condition, causing scuffs, scratches, and dings that diminish its value.
Even casual exposure to the environment can result in coin damage. Oxygen and moisture in the air elicit chemical reactions such as tarnishing or rust when interacting with some metals commonly found in coins. These natural processes lead to visual imperfections and, eventually, physical damage.
Ironically, many people unwittingly cause significant coin damage when trying to clean their coins. Using corrosive chemicals and abrasive materials often leads to irreparable harm by stripping away a coin’s luster and leaving scratch marks. Collectors and investors are advised to never clean old coins to avoid unnecessary damage.
Bending or Warping
Significant physical stress or extreme weather can alter the shape of a coin. This aesthetic change might not harm the elements or design of a coin yet still affects its evaluation. Bending and warping are considerably rare compared with other forms of coin damage.
When circulated coins were composed of gold and silver, criminals would often clip away small chunks of the coinage to melt the precious metals down. Since the overwhelming majority of modern coins are made with base metals, clipping is solely a feature of older investment-grade coins.
👉 Related read: Introduction to Coin Grading
Types of Mint Errors
Mint errors only occur during the minting process, and most of the coins bearing these mistakes are caught by mint personnel. As a result, only a small percentage of mint error coins even make it into circulation, enhancing their rarity, demand, and value. Mint errors are commonly divided into three types: planchet, die, and strike errors.
Before a coin is stamped with an obverse and reverse design, it’s in the form of a blank metal disk, called a planchet. Planchet errors occur when something goes wrong with these blanks.
- Blank Planchet – A blank planchet that’s released without being struck.
- Clipped Planchet – A planchet with a curved section missing due to a misfeed, often resembling a crescent or partial moon.
- Improper Thickness – Occurs when a planchet is thinner or thicker than the standard size, resulting in abnormal weight and dimensions.
- Split Planchet – A weakness in the blank caused by impurities forces a coin to crack, flake, peel, or split entirely.
Die errors refer to issues with the forms used to strike a particular pattern into the coin. These mistakes can affect the design, alignment, or overall appearance of the coin.
- Omitted Elements – When a die is missing dates, mint marks, inscriptions, and other elements, resulting in an incomplete coin design.
- Die Defects – A crack in the actual die creates chips, breaks, cracks, and other imperfections on the struck coin, notably common among Morgan Silver Dollars.
- Doubled Die – The result of a misalignment in the die, leading to a coin with a doubled or blurred image.
- Rotated Die – When one of the coin dies is not properly aligned with the other, causing the design to appear rotated.
Strike errors relate to issues with the striking of a coin, commonly resulting in anomalies in the design, surface, and details of a coin.
- Off-Center Strike – A misaligned coin receives an indirect strike which causes the design to be off-center.
- Double Strike – When a coin is struck more than once with the same die, resulting in an overlapping or layered appearance.
- Broadstrike – Improper alignment of the strike causes the design to extend beyond the edge of the die, which only occurs on coinage with plain edges.
- Uni-Face – Two planchets stuck to each other during a strike which produces two coins, each with only one face.
- Brockage – A coin stuck on a die is pressed into another planchet, causing an incuse or recession of the intended design.
- Wrong Planchet – When the incorrect planchet is stuck by a die intended for another coin (i.e. a dime planchet being struck by a Lincoln penny design)
Spotting the Difference Between Coin Damage and Mint Errors
Now that you know the difference between coin damage and mint errors, you’re probably wondering how to distinguish these disparate types of imperfections. Here are three steps that can help determine whether a defect detracts from or adds to a coin’s value:
1. Initial Inspection
Generic coin damage usually manifests as visible scratches, dents, scuffs, abrasions, and other forms of wear and tear on the coin’s surface. A thorough inspection, even with the naked eye, should be enough to identify these faults. Any deterioration of the coin’s original details or luster that appears to result from handling or environmental exposure is most likely coin damage.
If a coin’s flaws are out of the ordinary, you might be dealing with a mint error instead of run-of-the-mill coin damage. At this stage, research can provide further insights into the status of a coin’s abnormalities. There’s a wealth of information online and in numismatic books describing the common mint errors based on mint dates and the type of coinage.
3. Professional Assessment
The most surefire method for telling coin damage from mint errors is to ask a professional. Coin dealers and precious metals advisors have the expertise, instruments, and experience needed to determine the provenance of a coin’s flaws and how those imperfections affect its evaluation.
Whether you’re in possession of a damaged coin or considering buying a coin with imperfections, you should get to the bottom of the impact of those flaws. At Scottsdale Bullion & Coin, we have over a decade of experience helping investors make the most of their coin investments. Call us toll-free at 1-888-812-9892 or using our live chat function. Our advisors will be more than happy to help you determine the value of any coin.