In the world of collecting, collecting coins with errors is a relatively new specialty. The specialty can be traced to the discovery of the famous 1955 Lincoln Cent Doubled Die Obverse (DDO), known as The King of Errors. Finding this coin lead to collectors to search for errors, varieties, and anything out of the ordinary.
What is a “Doubled Die?”
In order to strike coins, the U.S. Mint creates dies from hubs that contain the engraved image of the coins. The hubs are pressed into the dies to transfer the image. In years past, the U.S. Mint used to use what they called a two-squeeze process to make sure the die had a full image. This meant that when pressing the hubs into the dies, the die makers squeezed the two parts twice.
Sometimes, the process does not go smoothly and mistakes are embedded in the dies. In the case of the 1955 DDO Lincoln Cent, the hub and die did not line up correctly on the second squeeze. The result was lettering that appeared shifted or doubled.
Initial Reaction to the Coin
When the coin was discovered, there were two reactions. One group of people saw the coin as an exciting find and wondered whether it happened on any other coins. Another group was not as happy. They referred to the coin as “spoiled” and refused to acknowledge it as a valid collectible. Some considered the coin so unremarkable that one club publication wrote how they were having a hard time selling the coins for one dollar each.
A New Hobby Segment is Born
Those who were excited by the new find began to form clubs dedicated to the finding and education of errors and other variety in U.S. coins. They started the Collectors of Mint Errors (COME) club in 1956. As the nascent club tried to find its footing in the hobby, two factions began to form around different error and variety types. COME disbanded in 1960 because of the in fighting between the two organizations.
Some former members of COME came together again in 1963 to form the Collectors of Numismatic Errors (CONE). The people who formed CONE focused mostly on die varieties such as doubled dies, repunched mintmarks, major die breaks, die cracks, and die chips. Other collectors who were more interested in major minting errors like the 1955 DDO Lincoln Cent formed the Numismatic Error Collectors of America (NECA).
The two clubs existed for many years as rivals believing their form of collecting errors was better than the other. During this time, both clubs provided a lot of research into errors and varieties and how they could have occurred. The publications from both clubs continue to be the basis of the knowledge still used today.
In 1980, the two organizations began to find common ground and discovered that it was better to work together than against each other. As the two clubs started to work together, many collectors became members of both clubs. To strengthen the hobby, both clubs voted to merge in 1983 to form the Combined Organizations of Numismatic Error Collectors of America (CONECA).
Finding Errors and Varieties
Today you can find error coins at your local coin store or by contacting a dealer specializing in errors and varieties. CONECA members will tell you that the thrill of finding errors is in the hunt. Error collectors use magnifying loupes, a good light source, and a lot of patience to examine coins to find something out of the ordinary. While there are some errors that are as visible as the 1955 DDO Lincoln Cent, others can be as subtle as outline of a small crack in the die, imperfections caused by two dies striking because the machine did not place a blank planchet properly between the dies, or the wrong die was used to strike the coin.
Errors can be found on any type of coin from any era. The error collecting community became excited when the processing of the new Presidential Dollars did not include the edge lettering; the edge letters were not aligned properly or doubled. While the U.S. Mint has improved the minting process, error collectors continue to find errors every time new coins are issued.
Starting an Error Collection
Anyone who wants to start searching for errors and varieties might want to buy a copy of Strike It Rich With Pocket Change by Brian Allen and Ken Potter published by Krause Publications (e-reader versions available). Now in its third edition, Strike it Rich will show you what to look for when you examine the coins in your pocket. According to the authors, a collector found a double die cast 1969 Lincoln cent in a roll of coins. When it was auctioned in 2008, it sold for $126,500.
Another great resource is Cherrypicker’s Guide by Bill Fivas and J.T. Stanton published by Whitman Publications. The fifth edition published in 2008 has more pictures, better descriptions, and a more complete resource with additional prices realized from various auction sources. A new edition is due later this year and should be available in e-reader formats.
Do not forget the resources of CONECA, which could be found on their website at conecaonline.org.
The 1955 DDO Lincoln Cent Today
As a coin desired by all types of collectors, a mid-grade coin you could have bought for $1 in 1960 is worth around $1,500 today. It is a coin that has held its value even during the current economic downturn but has not seen significant appreciation in the last ten years. Collectors will be happy the one they own will maintain its value. Investors should look to the highest graded coins that are designated as Red (full mint luster) or Red-Brown (some light copper oxidation) for better future returns.