The CN Journal Sample Articles

The 1885 5 Over 5 Five-Cent Piece

by J.C. Levesque

Reprinted from The CN Journal April 1979 pg 151

Once a label is placed on a particular die variety by a prominent cataloguer, it is generally accepted by subsequent cataloguers as it was first described. However, when such a variety is later proved not to be as originally attributed, it is very difficult to correct the discrepancy. Such is the case involving the so-called 1885 over 3 five cent piece.

Before undertaking the main topic of this article, it might be well to review the mintage of the 1885 five cent piece. The Royal Mint report for this year lists two different mintage figures for this denomination. On page 45, it states that a total of 953,951 coins were struck, yet on page 46, it quotes the figure of 1,000,000 as being the number of good pieces struck. As is usually the case with early mintage figures, the total number of coins struck for a given issue is subsequently reduced owing to the number of defective pieces produced. However, in this particular instance, we witness an increase of 46,049 over the total number of coins struck! We therefore arrive at the inevitable conclusion that the latter entry of an even 1 million is incorrect; having been the result of a rounding off of the true mintage of 953,951. It should be mentioned that the Colonial coinage tabulations given in the appendices of both the 1891 and 1908 Mint reports further maintain the figure of 1,000,000 by respectively listing a nominal value of $50,000 for the 1885 five cent piece. Ob¬viously, this value was arrived at by referring to the rounded off mintage entry.

In order to further deduce the actual number of good 1885 five cent pieces struck, the total mintage figure of 953,951 can be reduced by subtracting the amount of rejected coins included in this number. Although the exact percentage of these defective pieces cannot be ascertained, we can nevertheless utilize the figure of 17.105% - which represents the aggregate number of rejected coins for both the Imperial and Colonial issues (such coins were detected and destroyed at the Mint prior to being released). Thus, we arrive at the figure of 790,777 - which is the approximate number of good 1885 five cent pieces struck. It should be understood that this latter figure cannot be interpreted as the exact number of good coins produced since, as mentioned above, the actual percentage of rejected coins for each of the denominations is simply not known. Nevertheless it is reasonably safe to assume that the number of good 1885 five cent pieces minted is in the 750,000 to 850,000 range. When compared to the subsequently quoted figure of 1,000,000, we see a substantial difference of at least 150,000 coins.

A total of 19 obverse and 15 reverse dies were used to strike the 1885 five cent pieces - making an average of 56,114 strikes per pair of dies. This article will concern itself with only one of these 15 reverse dies; which gave rise to a die variety generally known as the 1885 over 3.

The fact is that the underlying final digit of the date is not a 3, as is generally believed, but another 5 (of the Small Tail 5 type), having been punched out of alignment and at an angle to the other digits. It was then corrected to its proper position by being repunched. As the accompanying line drawings illustrate, had a 3 been the undernumber, it definitely would not have left the three protrusions which are clearly visible to the left of the 5.

The first of these protrusions, and by far the most prominent, extends well beyond the top left corner of the 5 and has a right angle, exactly as it would appear had it been made by a 5 punch. If the undernumber had been a 3, its upper knob would have left a rounded protrusion rather than the cornered one seen on the actual variety. The second remnant of the underdigit is found to the left and ap¬proximately in the middle of the vertical back of the 5. It is directly aligned with the extreme left end of the first protrusion. This constitutes even further evidence that the undernumber is not a 3, since the middle horizontal stroke of this number does not extend so far - being much shorter than the upper and lower strokes. A 3 punch, therefore, would simply not have left such a mark in the die. The third and final protrusion is crescent shaped and to the top left of the lower knob of the 5. This could either be interpreted as having been made by the lower knobs of both a 3 and a 5 punch, however, in view of the nature of the other two protrusions, it is obvious that it was made by the latter. To summarize, the physical constitution of the remnants of the undernumber exactly match a 5 and not a 3 as is generally believed. Therefore, there is no doubt that this particular die variety is actually a 5 over 5 - being the product of repunching rather than overdating.

The first published reference to this blundered die variety was made in the New Netherlands Coin Co. 58th auction catalogue (Sept. 22-23, 1964). It was listed as lot # 306 and described as: "1885. Small 5, recut. Uncirculated . . . The 5 in the date is boldly doubled-punched, the first figure having been cut too high and too far to the left. Rare variety. "This coin, incidentally, is undoubtedly a Condition Census piece.

The next listing of this variety appeared in the catalogue of the 1976 C.N.A. convention auction, conducted by Charlton Auctions. It was included as lot # 509A and described as: $1885 over 3, toned VF, rare." It realized $145.00 against a $125.00 estimate. The 1978 edition of Charlton's catalogue makes reference to the sale of this particular coin by listing the following: "1885 over 83 C.N.A. 1976 sale $145.00 (VF)".

The April 28-29, 1978 S.I.N. auction, conducted by Joseph Lepczyk, offered another specimen of this variety. It was listed as lot # 449 and described as: "5 Cent, 1885/3 overdate, VF." It realized $37.00 against an estimated value of $65.00. There is a possibility that this may be the same coin which was previously sold by Charlton's.
Therefore, we witness a reversal from the correct attribution by New Netherlands to the misinterpretation made by subsequent cataloguers.

The tendency to interpret double or multiple punchings as overdates goes back to the early 1940's, when Bert Koper (Park Coin Shop, Winnipeg) published a listing of five cent silver die varieties and included a total of 9 overdates. Obviously, most of these (if not all) were no more than repunched digits; having been listed as overdates through misjudgement of their true nature. Oddly enough, no 1885 varieties were included in this listing - not even the Small and Large Tail 5's.

The attribution of a previously unknown die variety should be approached with extreme caution. It is of paramount importance for the cataloguer to base his or her conclusions on careful thought, having previously explored and appraised all avenues of possibility. Albert Einstein summed it up appropriately when he wrote: "Imagination is good. But it must always be critically controlled by the available facts".

It is evident that the 1885/5 five cent piece is relatively scarce (if not rare). This designation is justified by the fact that only a single reverse die was involved - out of a total of 15 used in the production of the 1885 five cent pieces. This solitary die represents an average of approximately 6.6 percent of the total mintage. The present availability of the 1885/5 die variety is even more minimal. Having carefully scrutinized various offerings since its discovery, fewer than fifteen examples can thus far be accounted for. These range in condition from Good to Uncirculated, with the great majority of them being in the lower circulated grades.

The popularity and demand for the 1885/5 five cent piece appears to be increasing, although this is no doubt directly attributable to its being previously referred to as a 5/3 overdate. I t is nevertheless an interesting die variety, since the great majority of the double punchings seen on Canadian decimal coins are not as prominent ad evidenced on the 1885 over 5 five cent piece.

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