Identifying Doubled Dies

F. Michael “Skip” Fazzari

Have you ever experienced the anticipation of meeting one of your child’s friends for the first time? Then, when the time came, only to discover you had some feeling based on their appearance or mannerism that gave you pause for concern. Does the speech about how we can be influenced by bad companions or how we are judged by the friends we keep rig a bell?

Every day in the grading room, I have the anticipation of opening boxes with a new group of coins. What will they be? Will I see foreign or U.S.; tokens; errors or varieties; gems or culls, or counterfeit and genuine coins?

After forty years of this, sometimes I feel like the careful parent who uses their life experience to judge their child’s friends. So, usually after viewing the first coin or two in the box, I can guess what the other pieces in the submission will be like. For example, if a foreign submission is from Cuba or the Philippines, chances are all the coins will be genuine and I’ll only need to look for other problems such as damage or improper cleaning. However, if the first coins in the box are from China, you can almost be certain it will contain some fakes.

Last week we received a box that was suppose to contain twenty doubled die coins of various dates and denominations. Unfortunately, when the first coin was a 1969-S Lincoln cent with ejection doubling, I knew that the odds of finding an actual doubled die in this submission was slim to none!

I’ve written before that in the early 70’s as a collector and then as “novice numismatist” I had only heard of the 1955 Doubled Die cent listed in the Redbook. I had no clue as to the large number of other doubled die coins known to specialists or waiting to be discovered. I remember when a strongly doubled Uncirculated 1936 Lincoln cent that was on the cover of a magazine was discovered and sold for thousands of dollars. Then doubled die varieties of the 1972 Lincoln cent and the 1916 Buffalo nickel were announced. With the publication of Breen’s Encyclopedia and more importantly the later publication of The Cherrypickers Guide a whole new field of collecting opened up. Now we all had a chance to find and purchase valuable coins for pennies and some patience.

Today, there is a plethora of information in books and on the Internet about coins with doubled dies; yet the general public and many collectors are just as ignorant about these errors as I once was. I’ll guess that so-called doubled die coins are probably the third most common coins I’m asked to authenticate at coin shows.

As a quick review, it takes several squeezes using a “tool” called a “hub” to impress a coin’s design into the softened steel cylinder that will become a die. The design on a hub is raised so it produces a sunken, reversed design in the die being made. After each squeeze, the die cylinder is annealed to soften it again and the step is repeated. If an alignment or rotational shift occurs while the hub is impressing its design into the die during one of the squeezes, the newly made die will have some of its design doubled. This error will be transferred to each coin made from that die.

Once you learn two of the characteristics found on doubled die coins, they become fairly easy to identify. On strongly doubled coins, the elements are completely separated. On coins with less separation, I think that the strength of the relief found on the doubled portion of the design is the most important clue to look for. The raised portions of these coins have virtually an identical amount of relief from the surface. The other commonly seen characteristic of doubled die coins with an overlapped design is a small notch or division where they meet.

There is a fairly common effect seen on many coins that mimic doubling. It is called “strike” or “ejection” doubling. This effect is caused when a normal die with no doubling on its design, shifts slightly as the dies come apart before the newly struck coin is ejected. In an instant, parts of the struck coin that have not cleared the recesses of the die are shifted out of normal registry causing a low, flat “doubled” area next to the coin’s relief when viewed from above. This is a mechanical form of doubling rather than a result from a defective die.