In the 1700s and 1800s, the dies used to strike coins were made partly by machine and partly by hand. In most cases the central figure, usually an image of Miss Liberty, came from a preset hub.
Things like dates, though, were punched in by hand, either the whole date at once or one digit at a time. Every step in the coin-manufacturing process creates the chance for another error, and misplaced dates (sometimes abbreviated MPDs) can be spectacular – if you know where to look.
On some coins misplaced dates are obvious. There’s one variety of 1797 half cent called the “1 Above 1,” and for good reason. Check out that date…someone messed up big-time.
In the early going, though, the U.S. Mint didn’t have the money to just throw away a badly punched die. It had to deal with the problem as best it could.
Other goofs are better-hidden but still obvious once seen. On this 1882 cent, check out Miss Liberty’s necklace of pearls or round beads. See the straight lines? Those are actually from the bottom of a “1” punch. Terrible aim!
The Seated coinage struck from the 1830s up to 1891 has many misplaced dates, which usually are jammed into the rocky ground where Liberty sits or down in the tooth-like rim decorations called dentils.
On this 1875 twenty cent coin (yes, the U.S. made a twenty cent coin once) struck at San Francisco, the horizontal line from a misplaced digit interrupts those vertical dentils right under the 7 in the date.
Thanks to modern technology, misplaced dates on U.S. coins are a thing of the past. They’re fun, though, and collectors who love hunting for overlooked varieties know exactly where to find them.
By John Dale Beety
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