to time, the United States Mint considers implementing new designs
on the coins in circulation. Historically, the Mint developed
new designs either internally or through outside competitions.
As the selection process narrowed, actual sample coins were
made of the various designs. These "Pattern" coins allowed Mint
officials to see how the proposed designs would look in three-dimensional
relief, to test for any problems in producing the coins, and
to try out new metal alloys.
coins fall into a number of different categories:
Both sides were rejected for use on circulating
One or both sides were modified slightly
before they were used on circulating coins.
Either the obverse or the reverse was accepted
for use on circulating coins.
Both sides were accepted for use on circulating
coins, but the metal composition may be different from the
one eventually used.
were tests of dies in various stages of production. Back when
dies were "cut" by hand, the engraver would periodically stamp
the die into a piece of soft metal to see how the work was progressing
(these are generally uniface stampings on oversized or irregularly
shaped blanks). Die Trials also include "setup" pieces which
were used to determine proper die alignments and striking pressures
before regular production began.
Coins include unexpected pairings of mis-matched dies made by
Mint officials to create artificial rarities for personal gain
or at the request of collectors. Fantasy Coins include the so-called
"Restrikes" that were made outside the Mint from discarded dies,
often combining dies of different types and vastly different
the line between Patterns, Die Trials, and Fantasy Coins becomes
blurred. In many cases, we simply lack the information as to
when a coin was struck, why, and by whom. Often, we must turn
to the coins themselves to look for such clues and, thankfully,
the coins are willing to help.
Is it important
that we classify these coins properly? Yes, because apart from
our natural human tendency to categorize, pigeon-hole, and classify
just about everything around us, most collectors are concerned
about a thing called "intent". Rarities that were "made-to-order"
or that were created deliberately hold less of an attraction
than legitimate rarities, and justly so.