Appreciation for gaffes growing among numismatists

I rarely talk about error coins collectively. While everyone knows about them, the field doesn’t get the same attention as the decimal series, even though it is obviously derived from those coins. In fact, there is a tendency among some collectors to sort of look down on many error collectors as being outside the norm. That is a regrettable approach to take. It may be because most errors are unique; while mistakes can be categorized and described, they can’t be easily reproduced. And errors are almost never documented by the Royal Canadian Mint.

They happen, they can’t be ordered, but they have to be found. For those reasons, you almost never come across a dealer with a sizable inventory of error coins. It may also be that the most celebrated error collector in Canada, Hans Zoell, was a prodigious cataloguer of even the most minor errors. Major varieties, such as wrong planchet coins and rotated dies, ended up side by side with tiny die cuds and die cracks. When compared with the world of mainstream collecting, errors are singularities. That has made it hard to assign a value to an error coin for many years. But that has been changing of late.

There was a time when you almost never saw an error coin listed in a mainstream auction; now almost every auction has a few. This increased action in the error coin market has come from a wider perception that error coins are not just odd goofs, but desirable numismatic items. That increased action has resulted in growing awareness that some errors can be worth a few bucks. When I first came to Canadian Coin News, a dealer told me that most errors are only worth about “10 bucks over numismatic value.” Today that has changed. We see some errors, such as 1992 rotated die coins, with recognized standing in standard references and a place of their own in our Trends section.

The entire world of missing and incorrect mint marks in the one-cent series is a case of errors getting recognized as attractive coins. The result has been that, for a few years now, error coins are proving of interest to most collectors. That is good, as long as the errors remain significant enough to warrant a premium. It is sort of axiomatic that the more dramatic the error the higher the value. The market has matured enough to the point that major errors, such as mules, are automatically accepted by collectors and dealers as worth a sizable premium, and worth the effort it takes to hunt them down from circulation. There is, however, another world of minor errors: tiny die cracks, minor doubling, and dot shaped die cuds that remain the realm of the specialist.

Some of these coins are of great interest, but only to the handful of collectors who follow errors with a passion. In some cases, such as with the 1999 Millennium series, the number of minor errors is so great that the supply outstrips the demand. If you want to collect these, you better do your homework on what is worth the effort. A minor crack is a minor crack, not a new die type, and a weak strike is a weak strike, not an error. There is also a nasty tendency among some people to attempt to make a minor error sound like a major die variety.

Make no mistake, errors are errors, but die varieties are a different thing altogether. If you want to move into the world of errors, take some time to learn. A good place is John Regitko’s Errors & Varieties column in this magazine. You may also want to track down organizations such as the Canadian Errors & Varieties Numismatic Association in Canada, or CONECA in the United States. As with all areas of numismatics, educating yourself is the best investment you can make.

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