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Specimen Strikes Dot Coin History
By Ginger Rapsus, Numismatic News
January 02, 2014

This article was originally printed in Numismatic News.
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The first true proof strike of a United States coin appeared in 1817, a large cent. However, a number of especially beautiful, well-struck and lustrous coins are known with earlier dates. Although these coins are not proof quality, they are special and undoubtedly were made with great care as presentation pieces for dignitaries, officers and foreign visitors. Specimen strikes are known for some coins of the pre-proof 1792-1816 era, and also for some later issues. These coins, although technically not true proofs, are lovely and stand out from regular circulation pieces.

True proof coins are struck twice and carefully handled to avoid contact marks with other coins. Proof coins show full detail not seen on circulation strikes. Specimen strikes, while not meeting the standards for proofs, are struck much better than run-of-the-mill Mint State coins, show brilliant surfaces and are free from bag marks. Also, the edges of the coins are clearly defined, with complete beads and denticles, nary a weak spot to be seen.

Specimen strikes of 1792 dismes and half dismes are known. There was no U.S. Mint at that point, but the Mint Act had passed. The quaint, simple designs of these coins show full detail, including the waves and curls on Miss Liberty’s head, and full feathers on the reverse eagle. Perhaps these coins were made for presentation to a visiting statesman, for an officer of the Mint, or for President George Washington.

A 1794 silver dollar, perhaps the very first struck, recently sold for nearly eight million dollars, a record price for a United States coin. Collectors of early dollars know that this particular date is famous for weak strikes, particularly around the 1 in the date, and the corresponding area on the reverse. The $10 million coin, graded Specimen-66, shows few, if any, weaknesses. Liberty’s head shows details almost never seen on an average 1794 dollar. The hair is bold, with eye details visible; Liberty practically blinks. The reverse eagle shows individual feathers and details on the head and even the beak. The denticles surrounding the design are complete. Undoubtedly, this was a very special coin, stuck for a special person – maybe the Director of the Mint, Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson, or President Washington.

Other early federal coins are known in superb condition and graded as Specimen strikes. Among these are stunning examples of the first large cents. Large cent lovers who are familiar with well-worn, nicked and scratched, much abused coppers of 1793, the first year of issue, will admire the special large cents in all three types.

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A specimen Chain cent, called “The Coin” is sharply struck and is a spectacular example of our first year copper cent, showing Liberty’s wild mane of hair in full detail. This Chain cent is of the “America” variety, by the way. Another Specimen strike, of the “Ameri” variety, exists, and is nearly as lovely as The Coin.

The Wreath cent specimen strike defines each berry, leaf and ribbon curl on the reverse. This cent is of the Vine and Bars edge variety, and is graded Specimen-68 – incredible for an early copper coin.

There is a Liberty Cap cent in Mint State-64 that technically is not a Specimen, but is listed under Specimen Strikes in Walter Breen’s book on United States proof coinage. The rarest of the three types of 1793 cents, this Liberty Cap cent is the finest rendering of this historical coin that any numismatist would appreciate. Most Liberty Cap cents are well worn.

A specimen strike of the 1795 Draped Bust dollar, small eagle type, is known. Besides the coin’s luster, the strong strike makes this piece a treasure for early dollar specialists and type collectors to admire. The small eagle’s head, including the beak, is fully present, along with breast and neck feather detail, and even defined claws.

An 1807 Draped Bust half dollar, graded Specimen-65, is a beautiful example of the last year of this design, with Liberty’s curls and hair ribbon, and the heraldic eagle fully struck; devices on the shield practically jump out at the viewer. This lovely coin also has lustrous surfaces.

Bust half dollar nuts know of an especially beautiful 1829 specimen strike of the Capped Bust design of half dollar. Graded Specimen-63, this coin shows a luster and detail that reveals this popular classic design in its greatest advantage.

A few coins of later years are also known as specimen strikes and graded thusly. As historical records and paperwork on most of these coins are not known, a numismatist can only guess why these special coins were made, and who the recipients were. Sometimes these coins appear at auction and are not sold. So little is known about these pieces, even their status can be questioned. Is a certain beautiful coin a true specimen strike, or an especially lovely Mint State coin that was well struck, from new dies, and carefully preserved?

A specialist who is interested in branch mint proof coins in particular might study these coins closely and find there is not much of a real difference. Branch mints did not have the expertise or the technology to strike true proofs, although branch mint proof coins are known. There are a few 1895-O Morgan dollars graded as proof, and some as specimen. Were both proofs and specimens made of this date? Most likely, there is just a small degree of difference, if any, between a branch mint proof and a specimen strike.

There is also a specimen example of the 1876-CC dime, perhaps actually a branch mint proof, made for a special occasion. (The Centennial of the United States?)

When proof coinage was stopped during the so-called coin shortage of the 1960s, specially made coins were struck for Special Mint Sets. These coins were not proof quality, but according to the Mint, were handled carefully, and had a better appearance than circulation coins. However, some SMS coins do show marks. Special Mint Sets were made in 1965, 1966 and 1967, with a few prototypes made in 1964. Many SMS coins, especially those of 1967, have a brilliant surface and are quite attractive in their own way. A few even show a cameo effect, beloved by proof coin specialists. These coins were the finest examples available during a turbulent time in United States coinage history.

Specimen strikes and Special Mint Set coins, while not true proofs, are beautiful and collectible.



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