By Jon Sullivan for PCGS ……
Perhaps the most well-known and popular mint error type is the off-center strike. The error is defined as a coin having part of the coin’s design struck off-center of the planchet. All off-center coins are missing some part of the design on at least one side of the coin, which can include the lettering, central design detail, or the dentils on the coin’s rim.
An off-center error occurs at the United States Mint when a planchet is not properly positioned between the dies, and then the coin is struck resulting in the design being only partially struck on the planchet. In order to qualify as an off-center strike, the coin must be missing part of the design, as previously described. If no design is missing, the coin is not an off-center strike.
Describing an off-center is primarily done by describing the percentage off-center that the coin was struck. The percentage off-center is important since it indicates how much planchet and design is missing or visible on the coin. Where the planchet was positioned between the dies when it was struck will determine how much design is missing, and this position is described as the “percentage” off-center and can range from 1% off-center to 99% off-center.
In order to determine the percentage off-center, the amount of visible planchet is the primary determining factor.
If 20% of the planchet is visible, then the coin is 20% off-center. If 50% is visible, then the coin is 50% off-center, etc. The percentage off-center is important since most collectors want to see some of the design as well as some of the planchet, which is why 40% to 60% off-center is generally considered to be the “perfect” percentage for a coin to be struck off-center. If the coin is only minimally struck off-center, such as 5% off, then it will be less valuable since the error is not as visible. If the coin is struck too far off-center, such as 95% off, there is so little design visible that the coin is not as eye-appealing and will have less value as a result.
Virtually all series of U.S. coins are known to have off-center strikes. Some of the rarest types include series that were short-lived or had low mintages generally, such as the Flying Eagle Cent, the 20 Cent Piece, the Three Cent Silver, and any coin types which were struck with extra care, including Proof coins or gold coins. Finding even a 5% off-center strike on series such as these can be very difficult and finding a 50% off-center example may well be impossible.
Modern coins are common with off-center strikes. Lincoln Cents, Jefferson Nickels, Washington Quarters, and most coins minted since the 1960s for general circulation are usually common as off-center strikes. The rarities in these more modern series of off-centers are certain dates and mint mark. Learning which ones are rare takes time and generally involves asking an expert on the series or simply doing careful research into auction records.
One other rule of thumb with off-center strikes (and for almost all mint error types) is that the larger the coin or denomination, the scarcer the error is. For example, Lincoln Cents and Roosevelt Dimes are generally very common as off-center strikes. Eisenhower Dollars and Kennedy Half Dollars are scarcer. This rule of thumb applies to older coins as well.
A collection of off-center strikes may be formed by date and mint for a particular series of coins (such as collecting off-center Lincoln Memorial Cents from 1959 through 2008) by date and mint mark, or perhaps doing a type set of off-centers, such as a 20th-century set formed of one coin for each design and metal type. Off-center strikes are popular due to their often-dramatic appearance, easy-to-understand manner of production, and also because they tend to be one of the most affordable error types.
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