CWTS Article of the Month!

November 1998

Civil War Token Errors

by Sterling A. Rachootin
Extracted from The Civil War Token Journal Volume 30, Number 1.

   Everyone desires to fall heir to a fortune or gain worldwide fame by making some stupendous find that captures the interest and envy of the world. If you were ever a stamp collector at one time or another, you undoubtedly read about that lucky chap who bought that one sheet of 100 24¢ airmail stamps at the post office and noticed that the airplane appeared to be flying upside-down. Each of these airmail stamps are valued at many tens of thousands of dollars each. Stamp collectors are probably more finicky that coin collectors and worry about every single perforation, centering, coloring, and countless other details as to the gum, tears, folds, etc. I mention this because not long ago an ardent stamp collector had misplaced his 24¢ inverted airmail stamp. He turned his study upside-down. He looked in every book in the room and when he was about to give up the search, he emptied the vacuum cleaner, and there amidst all the dirt and grime was his valuable 24¢ airmail stamp. It was creased, torn, folded, dirty and had parts missing, and, despite all of this, the stamp was still worth some $25,000! It so happened that the cleaning lady had accidentally vacuumed up this rare stamp and so it was rescued, but at a great loss in value.

   A tremendous amount of care is taken by our Federal government to ensure the highest quality control possible is maintained in the manufacturing of our currency and coins. And despite all the efforts made by our government, errors appear, some quite gross. Perfection is something that is strived for, not necessarily achieved. Error coins command a premium, and the greater the error, the greater the premium. It should be mentioned that there are catalogues devoted to nothing but U.S. error coins and currency, as well as clubs and organizations that are interested in errors, mistrikes, and freaks.

   Psychologically speaking, we mortals are so insecure and so vain that we derive pleasure from viewing and seeking errors made by others, and, in doing so, perhaps believe that our own self importance has been greatly enhanced in the process. We all know individuals who seem to take a special delight in pointing out shortcomings, faults, and, yes, errors in others.

   One of my favorite coins in my collection is a 1964 Lincoln cent that I paid $100 for some 25 years ago. You may wonder, How can a 1964 cent possibly be worth a C note? Well, it's an error coin. It is what is called a silver penny, or an eleven cent coin. It is a Lincoln cent minted on a dime planchet. It is caused supposedly when there is a changeover from one minting process to another. After minting dimes, one or more planchets may still be left in the hamper. After the minting of cents begins, these dime planchets get caught up in the process, and, viola, we have a silver cent. There may be another way they are produced and that is, some dishonest mint employees fed the wrong planchets into the minting machines when the boss wasn't around.

   For the sake of simplicity we can break the minting of errors into three main categories. The first is the manufacture of the planchet itself. The second is the minting process itself, and the third is the engraving of the die, which for Civil War tokens is the most interesting and contains the greatest number of errors.

   Planchet production may produce planchets with impurities that may result in striations, peeling, or breaking away of parts of the token. There may be uneven rolling of planchets, thick on one side, thin on the other. During this time the formation of clipped planchets may be encountered. I, being overly enthusiastic and wishing to believe in the preposterous, once bought a group of varying sized planchets made of copper and bronze. I was told that they were found near an establichment where Civil War tokens were produced. You may be smiling at this point, but I've reaped my $15 value out of them and they still reside in my collection, with or without your smiles.

   Every type of minting error that may apply to U.S. officially-minted coins can be found in the minting of Civil War tokens. Off-centered pieces are numerous, but over 25% off-center tokens are quite rare. In a misaligned die, you may find one side perfectly centered, the other side far off center. Die breaks abound, and an especially interesting die is die 47 (referencing die by Fuld Number), which one can trace from a simple die crack to a complete deterioration of the die. I have been trying to find a die 47 specimen without a die crack and I have found no one who has ever seen one. This die must have cracked on the first strike! Even off-center metal varieties seem to show this die crack. Then there are the double struck tokens, flip over double struck tokens, clogged dies, rusty dies, embedments, brockage, and counter brockaged tokens, etc.

   At this juncture, it should be noted that strange happenings occur in the collecting community. Taking something as universal as the penny board we find that a mint error becomes a key item for completing the book. There are no 1922P plain cents produced in the Lincoln series, but there is a space for a 1922 filled D cent, and what a price tag is nailed to this item. Another error to become legitimized is the 1937 3-legged buffalo nickel, which is nothing more than a worn or clogged die. Publicity and good P.R. turn minor errors into sought after rarities. Remember the 1955 double die cent?

   Where the error collector of Civil War tokens can have a real field day is the realm of die sinking. I have never seen an official U.S. coin having backward letters, misspelled words, and improper wording. We find CW tokens with backward letters, the word "by" in place of the word "be", words with letters left out, words with extra syllables added, right city, wrong state, incorrect spellings like "Military Necesity", Tellee - Teller, Belknp for Belknap, "Orville" for Orrville, the date 1873 for 1863, etc.

   Scrutinize your tokens. You may find some very interesting errors that you hadn't noticed before. Not too long ago while browsing through partsof my collection I noticed that I owned both Michigan tokens from Pontiac dies 770B-1 and 700B-2 with the "ni" error being an R-8 ("ni" an error for "in").

   It just so happened that the very first Civil War token that I came into posession of was the Freeport, Illinois, token 320C-1a with the spelling error "DEALE" for dealer, but the token was in such poor condition that I could only make out a few letters in the entire token.

   Many Pittsburgh tokens leabe out the final "h" in the spelling. Perhaps the die sinkers felt that what they were doing was creating an abbreviation, such as on many of these tokens there is a period after the letter "g" in Pittsburgh, but on other tokens, no period and no final "h" appear.

   What errors have you found on tokens in your collection? How about sharing some of the interesting errors you have in your collection? You just may have a one of a kind error token and by making other collectors aware of it, just may sell, trade or bargain it off to enhance your own collecting interest. Include a picture with any token you wish to share with your collecting colleagues.

   We find tokens struck over tokens and I am wondering if this can be considered a legitimate error or if perhaps this was an economical way to complete orders or reuse unsold tokens(?).

   Being that there wasn't that close scrutiny found in private issues that one finds with official U.S. minting procedures, it is possible that many errors may have been artificially produced by the many owners of private dies found in the posession of individuals. I have never owned a Civil War token die, but many are languishing about in private collections so I've heard.

CWTS Article Archive
Winter 2016 A Reminiscence
Winter 2016 My First Sulter Token
Spring 2016 Protesting Union Civil War Policies
Winter 2015 Slave Owner Issued Civil War Tokens
Fall 2014 Hill the Barber & African American Store Card Issuers
Fall 2014 Gustavus Lindenmueller: The Myth, The Man, The Mystery
Apr. 2004 Henry Varwig - OH165GD
Mar. 2004 Dating Mr. Sayre's Tokens
Feb. 2000 Knowledge of Civil War Tokens
Jan. 2000 Ohio 710A
Dec. 1999 Speculations About Yankee Robinson
Nov. 1999 Hussey's Private Message Post
Oct. 1999 The Great Central Fair
Sep. 1999 Wm. S. Wilcox of Adrian, Michigan
Aug. 1999 Grading Isn't Really a Monster
July 1999 The 1860 Presidential Campaign Medalets
June 1999 The Other Store Cards of Central New York
May 1999 George McClellan - The Peace Maker?
Apr. 1999 Sutler Tokens at Gettysburg
Mar. 1999 More on the Monitor and Merrimac
Feb. 1999 Civil War Token Mini-Set -- General Franz Sigel
Jan. 1999 Die Sinker Errors on Civil War Tokens
Dec. 1998 The Abraham Lincoln Mini-set
Nov. 1998 Civil War Token Errors
Articles reprinted with permission of The Civil War Token Society.
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