Monday, March 22, 2010

Majors and Minors (how do you determine what to collect?)

I got an email the other day from my friend Bill. He is also collaborating on the project I’m working on. He has a take on what makes a major variety that is similar to that of Hans Zoell from back in the 1960’s. Generally speaking, if a planchet is struck with good dies, from a press that is in good working order, yet there are differences from one set of dies to another, then that is a major variety. He goes on to talk about progressive damage to dies as being minor. Think here about die cracks and die chips as an example. These are the little unintended markers that show up on the coins that researches used to figure out die pairs, early die states and the like. Progressive is out, intended is in. I’m OK with that.

You can also classify punch damage in a progressive nature. I’m thinking here of broken vines, stems, letters, etc. Unintended damage that leaves a permanent output on the working dies. This progressive failure is “punch across the working dies” rather than the “working die across the planchet”. It’s the same thing but applied to a different part of the process. I’m OK with that too.

So we know what’s out, but what exactly is in? This continues to remain hard to say. A reengraving of letter or number that leaves small tell tale signs is not really a major issue. A reengraving of a letter or number that leaves us all wondering if the die was a “Monday” effort is something else. I think this goes back to something easily seen and not having to use more than a 10x glass to find. That puts reengraving and repuching, provided you can easily see it, into our field of play.

I realize that what passes as a variety is quite an individual thing. If you are a “Type” collector, you certainly are not considered a variety collector by the coin community at large but you may well see yourself as nothing but a variety collector. You collectables are defined by design change. Is a date collector a variety collector? Probably not, but you could argue that each date is a different variety. How about collecting by obverse? Here I would need two of the following years 1882, 1884, 1886 & 1891, then three for 1892. This is starting to look like a variety collection to me. Also if you pay attention to your 1859’s and have a narrow 9, a 9/8, a DP#1, DP#2 etc. you collect varieties. How about 1891 LLLD, LLSD, SLSD? Yep again you pass the test. Where do you draw the line. What is a major variety and what is a minor one? What do you intend to focus on? Do you have a favorite date? Hmm… Lots of questions for sure.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Thinking about Victoria and her Varieties

So I'm up early today thinking about Victorian large cents and what constitutes a major variety. I'm collaborating on a project with a couple of other people on varieties, and part of the question we are attempting to answer is "what actually is a major variety?". It's sometimes easier to decide what something is not, rather than what it actually is. I know that the nondescript bird I saw on the way into work today was not a hawk, sea gull or robin. But I really didn't get a good enough look at it to decide what it was.

Ah, my first clue. A major variety needs to be readily discernible without minute or microscopic examination. I should be able to pick up the coin, look at it with perhaps a 5 or 10x glass, and be able to see the features that would allow me to determine what it is. That's a good start. It also makes sense that the variety should be repeatable. Someone else should also be able to recognize it from a description or photograph, so there can be more than one. There must be more than one, otherwise it is unique in nature. That would seem to rule out things like planchet specific issues, errors and mutilations. The feature must come from the dies.

Lots of things come from the dies. Cracks are an example but that results from a failing die. The feature is unintended so I guess that generally rules them out as major varieties. They are great diagnostic measures however, and can give insight into the life and times of a die if you study crack progression. Great diagnostic tool but not a major variety. A clash mark also come from dies. Again unintended, again we learn something about what happened during the life of the dies but not really a variety I don't think. The variation must then have to have been intended.

Design transfer from Matrix to Punch to Working Die to coin. OK that is starting to flesh out now. Three opportunities for variation. Design elements on the matrix, design elements on the punch and then any touch up design elements on the working dies. What could happen to cause major variation in intended design? Perhaps I'll get up early tomorrow and think about that!