Eisenhower Dollar Die States



“Die State” is a way of expressing the appearance of dies as they age.

On struck coins, increasing die age appears as increasingly crude metal flow off minor devices, as muddled details and as “die flow lines” (increasing coarse generally radial lines seen in fields and on major devices).

Del Romaines laid out the typical appearance of coin dies as they age, expressed in percent of the die’s life.   He determined for all coin metals and sizes (except Ikes which he did not study) that his percentages hold for all the series he studied, even though the absolute production numbers change as a function of coin size and hardness of planchet metal

The Ike Group proposes that the much larger Ike coupled with its hard and abrasive CuNI-clad layer not only wore out the W-1 steel dies used for the 1971 and most 1972 Ikes faster than dies in other series but the dies also aged prematurely within that framework.  We found that Del’s definitions and percentages did not apply to 71-2 Ikes and suggested revised definitions based on use of a 10 X loupe.

The dies used for the 1973 and on Ikes, however, do fit well into Del’s die-state framework except these Ike dies were not pushed as hard as the dies of other series so a greater proportion of these Ikes are in earlier die states.   Even so, it’s likely these dies produced 250,000 Ikes on average thanks to the newly employed 52100 die steel.


Del Romaines, the father of Die States

The “state” of a die is the amount of wear it shows.  Credit Del Romines with the first serious attempt to match die states (the degree of die wear) with the numbers of coins struck in each die state.  Working meticulously in the 1980’s and 1990’s, his research provided the first understanding of just how fast dies age through their die states.  Del proved that dies spend more then half their life in a state of heavy wear.

Del determined the production of each die state expressed as a percentage of average die life and arrived at the conclusion that these percentages held for all dies regardless of size or hardness of the planchets being struck.  He did not include Ikes in his studies, however.

Here are Del’s definitions and percentages for the Die State parameters he created.  Note that Del’s primary work was on cents where the smaller letter devices can wash out more severely in advancing die states than is the case with the lettering on Ikes:

  • Very Early Die State (VEDS):  0 – 0.21% of a die’s average life;   has “the intact original die surfaces” (usually  not flat-smooth and sometimes showing microscopic die cracks (“heat checks” from the final die hardening heat treatment)) “with no metal movement lines” (die flow lines) except microscopic beginning just as a die enters EDS.
  • Early Die State (EDS):  0.21 – 2.63% - has “only very minor metal movement lines, normally starting from the designs that are the highest relief in relation to the field and will run from the letter, date, or design toward the rim.  All macroscopic detail will be as sharp as VEDS”  (“macroscopic” means visible to naked eye).
  • Middle Die State (MDS): 2.63 – 9.13% - will have “lost all of the microscopic markings of the new die and some of the macroscopic designs will have begun to fade.  On a doubled die coin, some divisions and/or separation lines will have blended with the doubling and will create an appearance of Class VI (Class VI is a type of doubled die (hub doubled die) without separation so letters typically just appear broader).  Heavy metal flow lines will be evident on the tops of all or most lettering near the rim in the form of a sloped, lined smear and the lettering no longer has sharp edges” (somewhat paraphrased and expanded for clarity).
  • Late Die State (LDS): 9.13 – 35% - coins “will have lost most of the macroscopic detail.  Very heavy metal flow lines will be evident”.
  • Very Late Die State (VLDS)35% and on - coins “will have lost all major detail.  The metal flow lines will be extremely heavy and in many cases may join the lettering to the rim with very heavy lines which are almost solid at times.

Del began his die state research in the 1970’s by gathering over a thousand 1960 obverse doubled die Lincoln cents (2-R-VI) to arrive at a tight range of mintages for each die state.  Why the DDO Lincoln?  Because it is a one-die coin!  He placed each DDO cent in the pile that corresponded to one of his 5 defined die states and thereby developed a population and percentage for each die state.  Was that a meticulous piece of work, a labor of love, or what!

In 1996 Del published in the March-April edition of CONECA’s ErrorScope the only account of his die state research in a numismatic journal.  In that article, and in other accounts provided by his private publication and comments by others who knew him well, Del expanded and slightly revised his die state percentages to encompass gold and silver coins, nickels, clad quarters and clad half dollars.   He knew that average die production (average number of coins struck per die) varied with the size and metal of the coin being struck but he found that the percentage struck in each die state was basically the same.

As to some reasonably hard production numbers, here is part of a 1972 US Mint report on average obverse die production for the various 1971 coins (the reverse dies lasted about 20% longer):

One Cent                    1,000,000
Five Cent                       170,000
Twenty Five Cent       155,000
Fifty Cent                      150,000
One Dollar                    100,000

Nickel-clad Ike Dollar Die States

Del never studied the Eisenhower Dollar.   The authors suspect if he had tried (and he may have), the change to more resilient 52100 die steel in late 1972 would have made his meticulous approach difficult, especially since there is no way he could have accumulated large one-die samples of a one-die Ike let alone a one-die 1971-1972 Ike and a one-die 1973-and-on Ike.

The Ike Group therefore took up the challenge, looking at Ikes from a die-state perspective, examining separately those struck with struck with W-1 tool steel (1971 and most 1972 Ikes, hereafter “71-2 Ikes”), and those struck with the more resilient 52100 tool steel (1973-and-on, hereafter “73-on Ikes”).

’71-2 Ike Die States

We found Eisenhower ’71-2 dies did not behave as Del described:

  1. Metal flow off minor devices generally was toward the central device more than toward the rim (Figure 1).
  2.  Die flow lines seemed to occur and advance faster than Del described (Figure 2).
  3. At times, the most severe die flow lines occurred in regions of greatest change in relief on the central device and these changes were often more advanced than one would expect based on die-flow smearing of the minor devices (Figure 4):  at other times, the strongest flow lines were in the fields and the central device remained smooth.
  4. Minor devices held up better than one would expect based on Del’s definitions.
  5. Some ’71-2 Ikes displayed premature “orange skin” on the central device, normally a marker of LDS and VLDS, well in advance of any “heavy flow lines” on the field or “smearing” of letter devices (Figure 5).

Die Flow Lines and Orange Skin  -  “What causes die flow lines and Orange Skin?” you ask.  Good question!   A coin being struck is subject to roughly 100 tons per square inch pressure:  this pressure is great enough to cause some molecules of die steel and some molecules of the tough copper-nickel alloy of the planchet’s outer layers to penetrate each other’s surfaces, that is, to become inter-woven and bonded.

As the planchet metal becomes somewhat plastic under the intense pressure, it “flows” to and into the rim and the central device.  This flow rips some die steel molecules out of the die’s surface.  It’s a kind of erosion, akin to a sandy or gravel bank exposed to water flow.  Inevitably tiny crevices form and continually coalesce and enlarge until one has large-scale erosion patterns.  The process of flow erosion on a die’s surface is similar.   Die flow lines in some regions of the die start small and get larger and larger as a die ages, generally wherever the change in relief is greatest or wherever in the fields the linear flow toward either rim or central device is greatest.

“Orange Skin” may be akin to the pattern of nodes and valleys that form when waves (die-flow lines) come at each other from different directions, perhaps due to a die settling somewhat.  We think Orange Skin may be more prevalent in the 71-2 Ikes than it is in other coin series and certainly more prevalent than in 73-on Ikes because of the severe “die sink” problem the Mint encountered with its 71-2 W1 die steel.  In other words, more severe die settling caused more significant changes in planchet metal flow directions as the die aged.

Planchet Metal Flow Zone of Balance  -  The authors suggest that planchet metal flow in smaller denominations starts from a “zone of balance” roughly midway between rim and central device such that planchet metal flows a relatively short distance from that zone toward the rim and a relatively short distance from that zone toward the central device.  We think that the Ike’s much larger central device volume (think of volume as the cube of linear dimensions) may have moved the “zone of balance” closer to the rim, perhaps somewhere within the peripheral letter devices rather than between those devices and the central device.  If we are correct, these minor devices would have suffered less die-flow erosion compared to smaller coins and it could be seen in either direction rather than just toward the rim.

Not only is the Ike significantly larger than other modern coins, the flow distance from the zone of balance to the central device would be disproportionately longer.

Since die wear would be proportional to the volume and distance the planchet metal moved as well as the hardness and abrasiveness of the planchet’s surface metal, we have a good explanation for the relatively short life span of Ike dies (see TABLE 1) as well as the earlier appearance of “flow lines” on Ikes compared to any other coin.

Ikes show Variable Changes as They Age  -  Compounding these observations and deductions, 71-2 Ikes vary considerably in the manner each shows its age.  Some Ike dies maintained or achieved an almost pristine central device while the fields became deeply furrowed.  Some dies show early smearing of IN (IN GOD WE TRUST) before significant flow lines developed there.  Many Ikes show premature orange peel on their central devices.  In fact, if the die state of individual 71-2 Ikes was determined by their individually most advanced localized changes, 95% of ’71-2 Ikes would have to be categorized as LDS and VLDS.

One approach to dealing with this dilemma would be that used in grading coins, multi-factorial analysis that weighs a number of die-state “grading” factors simultaneously to arrive at a single composite die state “grade”.  The authors suggest formalizing such a system for 71-2 Ike die states would be exceedingly difficult and not worth the time and effort – especially since there is an easier approach.

Adjusting Del’s Die State Definitions for 71-2 Ikes  -  While the authors have the utmost respect for Del’s pioneering work, we feel that making the 10 X loupe the defining parameter for die state determination is a good approach for 71-2 Ikes:

  • VEDS – no die flow lines visible under a 10X loupe anywhere on the coin.
  • EDS – earliest 10X die flow lines but no significant 10X smearing of any device.
  • MDS – substantial 10X die flow lines beginning and early 10X smearing of most minor devices.
  • LDS – marked 10X flow lines and moderate 10X smearing of most minor devices.
  • VLDS – coarse die flow lines and marked 10X and/or naked-eye smearing of some minor devices.

We think these definitions are clear, require only a loupe, and result in 71-2 Ike die-state percentages that are in line with Del’s percentages.  It is possible that our definitions would work well on other denominations, arriving at the same relative percentages as Del.   Our definitions might also prove more “user friendly” and thus help propel die states into the center of numismatic study and collecting.   Our hobby has exploded with the advent of TPGs and Internet venues:  think of the revolution an appreciation of die states could bring.  We might all start “seeing” die states very much the way we look for, “see” and pay for higher mint-state grades

 ’73-on Ike Die States

We believe both Del’s die-state definitions and our own work reasonably well with 73-on Ikes because the 52100 die steel Ike dies behaved like smaller denomination dies: there was no premature die aging and the pattern of aging fits Del’s descriptions quite well.

It’s interesting to note that the Mint apparently chose to take advantage of the superior production qualities of the new die steel and did not push these ’73-on Ike dies into VLDS (possibly Gasparro’s last Ike hoorah, as the SBA dies were pushed very hard in their first year (1979).  In other words, by avoiding VLDS die states, the Mint obtained better looking Ikes by giving up potentially much greater production per die.  Even so, the Mint on average probably got more than double the production from the 52100 dies, at least after they worked out the bugs (in 1972, the “new” dies were famous for cracking up, sometimes explosively).

We note that the letter devices inside the rim still do not show much smear toward the rim:   the neutral zone still appears to be in the vicinity of these letters.

Because there are few if any VLDS ’73-on Ikes, we have adjusted Del’s percentages for each of the remaining die states.  Then, using an internal April 1974 Mint memo giving an average Ike obverse die life of 256,128 strikes (5 dies, 1,280,640 pieces in April, 1972), we projected Del’s percentages for 250,000 pieces:

VEDS  =   0.7%    =       1,750
EDS     =    8%      =    20,000
MDS    =  30%     =     75,000
LDS     =   61%     =   153,000
VLDS  =    0%

Therefore, almost half of 1973 and later Ikes are MDS or better.

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