Magnification a Vital Tool to Evaluate Coins
By F. Michael Fazzari
This is my
first column since returning from the Florida
United Numismatists convention in Orlando. While
there, I was reminded of how much fun it is to
interact with collectors and examine their
coins. I cannot count how many times I have
found rare or interesting varieties on coins
brought to our table or sent in to the grading
service to be authenticated or graded. When I
identify them, the owner is very happy about his
unexpected windfall, but I often think about the
person who sold the coin with no clue as to what
he had. Thatís because Iíve been there once
Now, I want to encourage readers to look more
closely at their coins. Itís fun to look at
coins, especially when they are your own.
Countless collectors/accumulators search rolls
and dealerís stock looking for interesting
items. All you need to do is look closely.
Even bank-wrapped rolls of state quarters or
Presidential dollars can yield surprises. Did
you know that there are many different collar
types and finishes (besides the major lettering
errors) on the Presidential coins? Additionally,
slippage can cause shifts in the spacing of
their edge design. These searches can provide
hours of ďcheap thrills.Ē
Once you have decided to take a serious look at
your coins you need to know what to look for. If
you are concerned with counterfeit or altered
coins, itís best to take a grading class or
educational program at a major coin show or at
the American Numismatic Association Summer
Seminar. A couple of these programs were just
offered at the recent FUN show. Since coins with
altered surfaces are still common in the
marketplace, by examining coins closely before
your purchase, youíll avoid most but not all
surprises when you look at them later. Iíve also
been in that position several times before, so
Iíll review some of the characteristics to look
for on altered coins in a future column.
If you are looking for varieties, the date and
mintmark areas are good places to start. For
most of our coinage before the clad era, the
date and mintmark were placed on the die by
hand. To illustrate this, a good group to begin
with is the Indian cents. Rick Snow has expanded
his first book on these coins into a set of four
books showing misplaced dates and varieties.
The Cherrypickersí Guide to Rare Die Varieties
of U.S. Coins is another important source for
this type of material. These coins and others
are not always attributed in dealers stocks or
even in major grading service slabs. All you
need to do is to look for them and donít get
I have the luxury of having a digital camera
mounted to a stereo microscope on my desk. It is
very easy to lay down my hand lens and use the
microscope for a closer look at a coinís
surface. If I see something interesting to write
about, a micrograph is only a click away.
A microscope coupled with florescent light is a
surefire way to look for alterations and
varieties. Give yourself this test. What do you
see in the micrographs of the 1872 Seated silver
dollar obverse? Figure 1 shows Libertyís leg and
dress at 40X. This area is just to the right of
her shield (not shown). Did you notice the curly
raised lines that cross the folds of her dress?
Itís nothing rare, but itís an interesting
ďartifactĒ of the minting process.
Since the marks are raised on the coin, we know
that they had to be sunken into the die. This
leads to speculation that some string from a
workerís rag was left behind between the die and
hub. It became pressed into the die as it was
made, leaving a void for planchet metal to fill
when the coin was struck.
Now look at the area above the date (Figures 2
and 3) on the same coin. What do you see here?
Directly under the shield point is the base of
another numeral ď1.Ē At first it was punched
into the die too high! What caused the two half
moon shape marks over the ď2Ē in the date?
Hopefully Iíve got your interest. Now get out
your coins and look at them.