‘High 9,’ or tilted? One collector adds to ongoing die variety debate

By Jesse Robitaille

One collector has made what he believes could be a striking observation about Canada’s 1929 cent, which was issued from 1920-36 with the effigy of King George V.

Collectors of Canadian small cents are likely aware of the 1929 “Low 9” and “High 9” (H9) varieties, the latter of which can command a premium (in Trends, its valued at $100 in About Uncirculated-50 compared to $10 for a “Low 9”). This is partly owed to the variety’s scarcity in high grades; the Professional Coin Grading Service population report records seven examples, all of which are in Mint State except two – and none lower than Very Fine.

After studying “a significant number” of 1929 cents, collector Richard DeBruyn said he’s now seeking some “clarity” in the debate surrounding the H9 variety.

While looking for what he calls the “elusive” H9 in his hoard of 1929 cents, DeBruyn – aided by a magnifier – found a handful of examples.

“One in particular was quite ‘high,’ and was determined to be so without visual aids,” said DeBruyn, who then used a 30-times magnifier, through which the variety “stood out quite clearly compared with my other ‘High 9’ coins.”

Intrigued, he then magnified several images of so-called H9 varieties offered for sale on eBay.

“Now, before I go on, I am certain that if one really wanted, they could find some very subtle differences in the dates of other George V years as well, not to mention the seemingly endless different die crack variations; however, since they are so subtle – you would need a 30-times or more to detect the differences – they are not all categorized.”

Of all the George V small cents, the 1929 is “the one exception,” DeBruyn said.

“Some very observant and astute collector noticed – with his bare eyes no doubt – the raised last ‘9.’”

The variety was discovered by long-time numismatist and occasional CCN contributor Jerry Himelfarb in about 2003.

It’s one of three major position varieties – high, middle and low – now recognized for that coin, and it’s “a rather sought-after one now,” DeBruyn added.

“There is a slight issue though. It seems some of the reverse dies were produced with the last ‘9’ slightly tilted clockwise, giving the illusion of that last ‘9’ being high.”

HIGH, OR TILTED?

In this era, the last two digits of a coin’s year-date were not added to the master die but were added later.

DeBruyn believes the last “9” of the year-date on some 1929 cents was punched with a slight clockwise tilt of about five degrees.

“It is subtle, but the rotation is enough to raise the point of the ‘9’ upwards,” he said, adding he calls this variation the “Tilted 9” (T9).

“At first glance, a coin such as this is thought to be a H9 due to the raised bottom point of the ‘9’ that is noticeably higher than the bottom of the first ‘9’ and almost – but not quite – even with the bottom of the ‘2’; however, upon closer examination, the top of the ‘9’ just doesn’t seem high enough, and the collector is left in a dilemma – and hesitating, perhaps.”

This was how he felt, he said, “with a few that I quite literally laboured over for several minutes trying to convince myself if it was a H9.”

“From what I can determine, the T9 is not common but not as rare as the H9,” said DeBruyn, whose roughly 250-piece collection of 1929 cents contains three T9s and one H9.

“Based on very preliminary empirical evidence so far, I would estimate that perhaps four out of 1,000 1929s are true H9s. This would correspond to probably just one reverse die having been produced with the last ‘9’ punched quite high.”

Unsure how many T9s exist, DeBruyn said “it seems likely the last ‘9’ was slightly tilted on more than one reverse die since I believe more T9s exist than H9s.”

He also believes the master matrix “presumably would have been in use throughout the 1920s,” so the first three digits of the year-date – “192” – would have no deviations, but the last “9” could be misplaced in a variety of ways.

“As well, at over 12 million coins produced, it was by far the highest mintage produced for the George V series of small cents up to that point. It wouldn’t be a stretch to imagine some quality-control issues finally cropping up, especially in a year in which the stock market crashed, thus providing perhaps an unsettling distraction to their precise work.”

DeBruyn concedes this part of his theory is “all conjecture and speculation, but is it just a coincidence that 1929 had an issue?”

“Why not 1932, when over 21 million were minted? One would think that 1932 would definitely have a couple unique varieties, or did they have impeccable quality control by then?”

PREMIUM VARIETY OR MISNOMER?

Since the H9 variety was discovered about a decade and a half ago, some experts have weighed in on the debate and consider its designation as a variety more of a misnomer.

Because each of the varying positions of the final “9” in the year-date could be considered a different variety, its scarcity – and value – is debatable indeed.

“You have to understand, in those days, the last two digits were not added to the master die; they were added later, so in effect, you could have hundreds of different variations of those two digits,” said numismatist John Regitko, who authors a long-running CCN column on errors and varieties.

“High, low, right, left – the combinations are in the hundreds. With something like this, I’m sure there are many others out there, but people just haven’t studied it as much.”

A sufficient sample size will be needed before the H9 variety – or any other die varieties for that matter – is solidified, Regitko added.

“There are very few people who go to that extreme in trying to track down the different die variations. Good luck to anybody who at this late stage tries to gather up a whole pile of these variations,” he said, adding there are “surprisingly few” examples of die varieties or repetitive errors from this era available on the market because they’re already held in people’s collections or lost to time.

CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE

With his recent research, DeBruyn is hoping to help collectors “make their own determination as to what they constitute as being a H9,” he said.

“If they want to accept a T9 as a sub-category of the H9, and therefore call it a H9 as well, so be it. As mentioned, there are numerous die crack varieties and other interesting production defects for many other years. Deciding on which are worthy of recognition is the issue,” said DeBruyn, who describes himself as “an avid collector off and on” since the mid-1970s, although he has never belonged to a numismatic club or society “and can only claim expertise in just a few select areas.”

“Small cents are not one of them,” he added. “I just like them.”

He’s now calling on other collectors for their opinions on the H9 debate.

“I very much suspect I am not the first person, nor will I be the last, to experience angst in assessing the elusive H9,” he said, adding it’s important to “keep things in perspective.”

“It’s not rocket science, but just a simple, very low-denomination coin, whose mintage year just happens to have a unique variety or two.” 

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