About ten years ago, when I got back to collecting more seriously, I met Ole Sjoelund, who is an expert of coin variants. Ole is originally from Denmark, but now lives in France, but has traveled extensively. It’s been ten years now that we are exchanging emails, though we never met. Our conversations often exceeded coin collecting, However, I got quite a bit of help and inspiration from Ole over the years, not only in numismatics. If I just mention that currently he has over 38000 coins, it is quite likely that if I have a question about something, he has it. I really enjoy that we tend to collect similarly, except that he is approximately a life-time ahead of me, which is certainly to my benefit… During our conversations, I learned about some of his work regarding coin variants. The topic fascinates me, because it is not anything I could easily understand. Variants in general are such that one cannot really distinguish by touch only. I thought this would be interesting for anybody, who wants to learn about coin variants, so I asked Ole to talk about it. However, where this post is going to be unique is that I asked him to address the topic so that it makes sense for blind readers and without pictures. I had a few questions after I got the first draft, and since Ole is a good writer, I didn’t want to change his writing just to make it fit the original style. So, though it is originally not an interview, you will find a few questions I had.
What can a variant be?
There are nearly as many definitions of that as there are coin collectors, but I have my own, which is simple and easy to understand and to argue (for me).
1st statement: I only consider variants inside one year of any given Krause & Mishler (KM) type. If you have changes inside the KM type from one year to another without a new KM#, then I consider that as “problem”, which should have been resolved by Krause giving a new KM sub-number from the year of the change.
2nd statement: A variant has to occur at least twice inside that year. The find has to be confirmed by several findings by yourself or other collectors
Examples for the first statement
Years which can be bold or fine, large or small, with different cipher types (long or short 6’es (Sweden: 50 Ore 1936G, KM# 788, normal / long “6”), round or oval zeros (Chile: 50 Pesos 2010, KM# 219.2, dates), plain or serif (Slovenia: 1 Tolar 1994, KM# 4, different “4” / mints
Ornaments which can be different, like a wreath of leafs can have the leafs separated from each other or they might touch (Poland: 1 Zlote 1990, Y# 49.3, leafs
). If the wreath is only joined at the bottom, they might have a different knot binding them together or the two tops might be near to each other or far from each other. If there berries in the wreath the stalks might be of different lengths for the same berry or their stalks might be joining the wreath in different ways (Yugoslavia: 1 Dinar 1977, KM# 59, wreaths and dates).
Busts of persons shown on the coin can have different sizes; the hair style can be different (Argentina: 50 Centavos, KM# 39, hair), the ears can be different (Italy, 50 Lire, 1990, KM# 95.2, Ears), the ear rings might be different (newer Great Britain coins), etc.)
Mint marks or privy marks, might change inside a year or be placed differently (Belgium: 20 Cents, 2007 KM# 243, and 2008 KM# 278).
There are many other possibilities, but I’ll stop the examples for the first statement here.
All these examples happen because the dies have been deliberately changed during the year.
Tom: Why would they change the die?
The dies might change, because they are worn out. Let’s assume that the mother die has the year 190 already in it, so now you can copy the mother die for the years to come, the first one would obviously be 1900! Let’s assume that the mother die has an oval zero and the guy, who’s asked to put the second zero only has a round zero to change the die? The result is obviously an oval zero followed by a round zero!
The hairstyle example is more complicated, but the original die had for example fine details, but the die got completely clotted and therefore useless, so the engraver had to reconstitute it fast and made a simpler design with less details!
Tom: In general, why would the dies change over the years?
Dies wear out, so you always try to keep the mother die to make sure that most of the original design is kept, but normally only the dates are concerned by the wearing out of a die. That’s why most variants concern the dates, since the last digit, eventually even the last two digits, has to be restamped into the daughter die.
Stop for now, let’s talk about mothers and daughters, right. The mother is the original die, but open for some future changes in the date. The mother is ALWAYS used to clone another die, which will then receive the final details like the year. When that clone wears out inside the year, another clone will be made and the “same” details will be imprinted into it, but if the engraver doesn’t have the same “zero” stamp to impress in the die the minted coin will be different!
Examples for the second statement
Filled dies can cause filled digits on a coin, but it often happens, that this “error” is not detected by the quality control, so many coins will have the same filled digit, which then becomes a variant (for me). You can quite often see the progress of this, because the digit will start with hardly any filling until it’s fully closed. (Finland: 2 Euro 1999, KM# 105, alloy in 9’s in the year), (Belgium: 5 Francs, 1986, KM# 163, 2 variants)
Dies can also crack and thus give strange extra deposits of alloy on the produced coins, they are mostly one time events and thus not variants. (Denmark: 25 Ore 1967, KM# 855.1, extra alloy on E)
If the dies are cleaned “too”, well you might get holes in the die caused by the cleaning acid, thus you’ll find some small extra “globs” of alloy on the coins surface. In some cases, you’ll find the same globs in the same positions on several coins, so that type of coins become variants (Denmark: 25 Ore 1966, KM# 855.1, alloy dots) (according to me).
Tom: I’m not sure where is the limit between a variant and an error coin.
That’s why there is NO fixed definition. For example, you can find plenty of Indian coins (I don’t have any), where the one side of the basic coin (the blanc) was only ¼ under the hydraulic hammer, when the coin was struck, so 3 quarters of that coin on that side is with no pattern. This is a one time accident in coin producing facilities. In India, the quality control is not extremely good, so those coins happen to come into circulation to the pleasure of the Indian collectors.
Tom: I would assume most variants cannot be felt by touch only. Can you think of any examples which can be?
I can only imagine that a coin which should be coin oriented and then by happenchance comes out as medal oriented might be sensed by trained fingertips. My fingertips are now old and less sensitive, so I can’t even make the experiment for you, sorry for that.
Now if YOU detect some deviations from the “normal” on one of your coins, try to classify the deviation against the two statements above, but before doing that, please consult the KM catalogs or even better the Numista catalog (en.numista.com), where most, far from all, varieties are mentioned and even sometimes shown!
How did I become an addict to variants and their documentations?
Simple as science! You might have noticed the bold, fine, larger, smaller, wider, narrower, nearer, further etc above. They are all subjective expressions. Now, if you only have one coin in front of you, and the catalog tells you, that that type has a variant with a wider date, you will NOT be happy with that since wider means only something if you can compare to something narrower. My first approach was to measure the differences in objective measurements, but then again, I thought that not everybody would have my precision instruments at hand, so I tried to find reference “points” on the coins to set up some “visible” limits. The wide date could start from the top of a letter “M” below the first digit, whereas the narrow date would start from the letter “N” and so on and so forth. For everything it’s a visible thing and I have made more than 500 PowerPoint documentations showing my findings.
Tom: What are your precision instruments?
Jewelers scale (1/100 of a gram) / caliper (1/100 of a mm) / magnet / macro camera (12 MP)
Tom: Do people ask you to document variants?
People quite often ask me to document their findings, if I agree that it’s an undocumented variant! If I don’t have the coins I ask them to send me high resolution scans of their coins and I do the documentation in PowerPoint, which is then converted into a .jpg file! I always take care to mention their names and their avatar in the documentation.
Tom: Is there a pattern where variants occur? A certain mint, country, currency, etc.?
India is the best example of a completely wild amount of variants, errors and what have you. It’s very interesting for people like me!
Tom: Do you think you have found the majority of variants in recent coins, or is this an area that needs much more research?
As such you don’t do any research, you just observe the coins passing in front of you, you never know, when you’ll find a variant. It’s not like oysters, where you’re sure you’ll never find a pearl!
Tom: If people want to look at your research, where can they find it?
They should look into Numista really, but also here http://monnaiesetvarietes.esy.es/, where a friend of mine, Michel Guerin, is making his findings known, but in French. It’s a very good site.
For the community of the people with hindered sight, those documentations are of really no use.
Tom: I think out of modesty, Ole didn’t add his own site: https://sites.google.com/site/coinvarietiescollection/home, which has excellent documentation, but instead of maintaining that site right now, Ole adds his findings to the Numista catalog, to the individual coins. Most likely the variants referenced above have been contributed to Ole.
Thhank you Ole for this informative explanation.
For the sake of blind readers, I would like to add that the documentation of variants by nature is not necessarily too accessible. I had experience with some of Ole’s documents, and if you run the JPG files through a character recognition software, the text displays very nicely. However, as it references the images, it doesn’t always make sense without vision. It is worth a try though, but I have to warn you, without vision it is relatively complicated to understand. Regardless of how much I can understand from the documentation, I still find the topic fascinating.