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Detail of a British West Africa Trial Shilling in Steel, Obverse

A Matter of Trial & Error (Part 1)

The field of coin collecting is so vast that there are perhaps infinite possible combinations or approaches as to what one may collect or specialise in.

In this article, I look at an approach to collecting that appears to be quickly gaining popularity in Australia, although it is by no means new to the world of numismatics.

This is the collecting of trials, patterns and error coins, or coins that were never meant to enter into general circulation.

British West Africa Trial Shilling in Steel

These are very fascinating coins to collect for many reasons: (i) They may be scarce to rare, or even unique; (ii) They reveal much about how coins are produced from design to release into circulation; and (iii) Sometimes they look quite amazing and incredibly unusual!

For me, it is interesting to find a coin that is struck in a metal that is not commonly that which is used in normal circulation. These off-metal strikes may have been produced as trial pieces for selection and approval, or were simply struck on the wrong metal by accident. Or who knows what other reasons may exist...

The trial British West Africa Shilling in steel (illustrated above) was probably done to test the viability of steel as the metal for circulation coins. We know that steel was not used in normal circulation coins in this case.

In the next example of the Thailand 1 Baht coin in copper, the reasons may not be so obvious.

Thailand 1 Baht in Copper

Careful inspection reveals that the coin appears to be struck from corroded dies.

Does this mean that: (i) The coin was struck sometime (as in years) after the dies were made and used? (ii) The die was used on a copper planchet towards the end of its useful life, perhaps to trial the viability of copper (as opposed to the more expensive silver normally used)? (iii) The coin was a trial or pattern that subsequently became corroded for some reason or another?

Among my favourite coins are off-metal errors that would most likely have been struck unintentionally. For example, it is likely that sometimes planchets for another coin of a different denomination or metal get accidentally fed into the wrong press, and end up being struck by (usually larger) dies not normally associated with the coin.

New Zealand 10 Cents in Copper

In the following example, a New Zealand 10-Cent coin appears to have been struck on a smaller copper planchet, presumably a South African 1-Cent coin, which then spread outwards slightly due to the pressure of the strike.

This, I must say, is a very dramatic example, well-preserved in brilliant uncirculated condition!

South African 2 Cents in Nickel

In another example, a South African 2-Cent coin appears to have been struck on a smaller nickel planchet, giving rise to a coin made of a metal that it is not normally associated with, which should have been bronze.

How many of these were produced? Perhaps we shall never know, but the intrigue of such an unusual coin is enough to make this one of my most treasured coins.

People sometimes assume that such errors are too expensive to collect. Perhaps in the case of coins from the United States where the demand for them can be very high, this may be the case. Even Australian off-metal coins can be very expensive. However, spectacular examples that are just as rare may be found in the coinage of other countries.

In my personal opinion, New Zealand coins are still highly undervalued. They provide a fascinating case study for collectors because they were struck by many different mints around the world during different periods. Mintages are usually very low; hence examples of errors or varieties are usually rather rare. Yet they are still reasonably affordable, and one may be able to find them in auctions without having to face fierce competition from other potential bidders.

Who knows how long this will be the case? Within the last couple of years, demand for Australian errors and varieties seem to have grown significantly. Recent CAB (Australasian Coin and Banknote Magazine issues appear to have quite regularly featured articles on error coins (as well as varieties, of course).

Continued in Part 2

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