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Some Comments on "Specimen" from a Minting Perspective


rittenhouse
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I read with interest the thread on Specimen Strike in Russian Numismatics. As some may be aware, I'm a former process engineer and minting technology is a field I've studied and written about for the past 20 years or so.

 

IMHO, "Specimen Strike" is tough to define since it's largely a made-up term applied for marketing purposes by the TPGs.

 

After seeing this term come into more and more use with the rise of TPGs, I think it's fairly apparent that "specimen" really means "this coin is so nicely struck and so much better looking than even the really nice pieces or its type that it MUST have been a specimen so we'll call it a specimen based on that". Furthermore, while coins were certainly struck as "specimens" for collectors and dignitaries, IMHO they are impossible to identify unless accompanied by documentation proving provenance.

 

Some have suggested that "specimens" were manufactured by a different process. While there MAY be a process for modern specimen strikes (i.e., post-1945 or so) I can say that thus far I have uncovered absolutely no historical documentation supporting this supposition for earlier coinage. Thus far, the historical record only documents the processes for business strike and proof strike coinage.

 

As to the question of how "specimen strikes" could have been made, I can only offer my best guess based on my personal experience in the stamping industry along with the experience of some friends in the private minting business. The conclusion we've come to is that "specimen strikes" were hand-selected pieces, probably from a special run of coinage. Essentially the mint would produce X coins on its best presses using the best planchets and then hand select the best out of the run. The rest could be scrapped or thrown in with "regular production". The dies probably were fresh dies possibly with a bit of extra polishing.

 

After the introduction of hydraulic coining presses, the business strike "specimens" could have been struck on a hydraulic proof coining press using business strike dies. (BTW, the Boulton presses were not hydraulic coining presses, they were merely standard screw presses driven by a steam engine).

 

Hope this helps.

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IMHO, "Specimen Strike" is tough to define since it's largely a made-up term applied for marketing purposes by the TPGs.

 

After seeing this term come into more and more use with the rise of TPGs, I think it's fairly apparent that "specimen" really means "this coin is so nicely struck and so much better looking than even the really nice pieces or its type that it MUST have been a specimen so we'll call it a specimen based on that". Furthermore, while coins were certainly struck as "specimens" for collectors and dignitaries, IMHO they are impossible to identify unless accompanied by documentation proving provenance.

Hope this helps.

Thank you. Thank you very much. Now, I believe I am not alone here (even though my postings have been removed :ninja: This is exactly what I've tried to stress - the SP are just best examples (either proofs or MS).

 

I know Mr WCO has different "scientific" opinion but I'll stick with mine and stop here.

 

Regards,

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I read with interest the thread on Specimen Strike in Russian Numismatics. As some may be aware, I'm a former process engineer and minting technology is a field I've studied and written about for the past 20 years or so.

 

IMHO, "Specimen Strike" is tough to define since it's largely a made-up term applied for marketing purposes by the TPGs.

 

After seeing this term come into more and more use with the rise of TPGs, I think it's fairly apparent that "specimen" really means "this coin is so nicely struck and so much better looking than even the really nice pieces or its type that it MUST have been a specimen so we'll call it a specimen based on that". Furthermore, while coins were certainly struck as "specimens" for collectors and dignitaries, IMHO they are impossible to identify unless accompanied by documentation proving provenance.

 

Some have suggested that "specimens" were manufactured by a different process. While there MAY be a process for modern specimen strikes (i.e., post-1945 or so) I can say that thus far I have uncovered absolutely no historical documentation supporting this supposition for earlier coinage. Thus far, the historical record only documents the processes for business strike and proof strike coinage.

 

As to the question of how "specimen strikes" could have been made, I can only offer my best guess based on my personal experience in the stamping industry along with the experience of some friends in the private minting business. The conclusion we've come to is that "specimen strikes" were hand-selected pieces, probably from a special run of coinage. Essentially the mint would produce X coins on its best presses using the best planchets and then hand select the best out of the run. The rest could be scrapped or thrown in with "regular production". The dies probably were fresh dies possibly with a bit of extra polishing.

 

After the introduction of hydraulic coining presses, the business strike "specimens" could have been struck on a hydraulic proof coining press using business strike dies. (BTW, the Boulton presses were not hydraulic coining presses, they were merely standard screw presses driven by a steam engine).

 

Hope this helps.

 

 

Thank you, rittenhouse. Very interesting observations and information.

 

Every opponent of the previous discussion reading your post can find additional evidence to support his statements. For me description: "...hand-selected pieces, probably from a special run of coinage. Essentially the mint would produce X coins on its best presses using the best planchets and then hand select the best out of the run..." looks as description of technology. Different from both Proof and MS.

 

I also know that some meaning when people speak of Specimen coins is "this coin is so nicely struck and so much better looking than even the really nice pieces or its type that it MUST have been a specimen so we'll call it a specimen based on that". This is the same as in Russia word "Proof" for many collectors is not a name of technology, but mostly highest possible quality.

 

There is lots of confusing info so I guess TPG's will start using more precision in definitions. I am also not changing my opinion on the subject. And I also stop here.

 

My best regards,

WCO

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[snip...] As to the question of how "specimen strikes" could have been made, I can only offer my best guess based on my personal experience in the stamping industry along with the experience of some friends in the private minting business. The conclusion we've come to is that "specimen strikes" were hand-selected pieces, probably from a special run of coinage. Essentially the mint would produce X coins on its best presses using the best planchets and then hand select the best out of the run. The rest could be scrapped or thrown in with "regular production". The dies probably were fresh dies possibly with a bit of extra polishing.

There is a German grading term: "Erstabschlag", or "first strike", which seems to fit in with what you are saying. This doesn't mean only the very first coin out of the press (I wonder if those are always so beautiful?? After all, as the Russians say: "Первый блин -- комом", or "The first blin[y] is always a lumpy mess" :ninja: ), but refers to the first several of a batch which are made while the dies are still near-perfect.

 

Of course, it is impossible to tell where the run of "first strikes" ends and the regular strikes begins. I agree with you that it must remain a very subjective predicate.

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Just a question - and this should be applicable to older European coins if I am not mistaken. In the late 1800s, people that had extra cash could supposely order the coins in "prestine" condition from the mint. In particular to the Russian Imperial Commemorative coins, I believe that the 1835 family ruble was specifically minted for only the Tsar's family and related although some interesting story was involved with it.

 

The question is: Are coins specifically ordered in the 1800s by "customers" or by the Tsars or whomever who had extra money received "higher quality" coins, such as in "specimen" conditions? Remember we are talking about the older days like in 1800s and when customers pay good money, I would somewhat assume that they are expecting the best that that the technology could do.

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The question is: Are coins specifically ordered in the 1800s by "customers" or by the Tsars or whomever who had extra money received "higher quality" coins, such as in "specimen" conditions? Remember we are talking about the older days like in 1800s and when customers pay good money, I would somewhat assume that they are expecting the best that that the technology could do.
Good question, gxseries. I'm sure that some people who had money and were otherwise well-connected with the powers-that-be received special treatment from the mint, and just about everywhere else, too. After all, it was only when the Grand Duke complained that they put an end to the indiscriminate minting of Novodel coins. And Fabergé, for example, made some of his most spectacular eggs not for the Tsar, but for his wealthy private clientel.

 

Of course, it seems doubtful that people would line up for specimen strikes of ordinary business issues -- more likely that it was for some commemoratives. I am sure that mint sets as well as proof sets were issued, though, since this was common practice for many other countries. But I wonder how well is this documented? Did the Russian Imperial Mint issue "first strike" or "specimen" subscription programs, for example like many modern-day mints do (e.g. the new USA "Prezibucks")?

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Just a question - and this should be applicable to older European coins if I am not mistaken. In the late 1800s, people that had extra cash could supposely order the coins in "prestine" condition from the mint. In particular to the Russian Imperial Commemorative coins, I believe that the 1835 family ruble was specifically minted for only the Tsar's family and related although some interesting story was involved with it.

 

The question is: Are coins specifically ordered in the 1800s by "customers" or by the Tsars or whomever who had extra money received "higher quality" coins, such as in "specimen" conditions? Remember we are talking about the older days like in 1800s and when customers pay good money, I would somewhat assume that they are expecting the best that that the technology could do.

I cannot speak directly to the Russian situation but that in the United States was probably common to most mints. It was general practice at U.S. mints, beginning with the first regular coinage in 1793, to keep a small stock of current and older coins on hand as a courtesy to collectors and visitors wanting souvenirs. These stocks of coins usually went back only a few years. The coins were sold to the public at face value.

 

Because of the situation with novodels, the Russian rules perhaps varied somewhat but still would probably have been in line with those at other world mints for the general run of circulating coins. Becuase of the special conditions connected with the commemoratives, however, a stock may have been kept on hand longer than for regular issues.

 

RWJ

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Just a question - and this should be applicable to older European coins if I am not mistaken. In the late 1800s, people that had extra cash could supposely order the coins in "prestine" condition from the mint. In particular to the Russian Imperial Commemorative coins, I believe that the 1835 family ruble was specifically minted for only the Tsar's family and related although some interesting story was involved with it.

 

The question is: Are coins specifically ordered in the 1800s by "customers" or by the Tsars or whomever who had extra money received "higher quality" coins, such as in "specimen" conditions? Remember we are talking about the older days like in 1800s and when customers pay good money, I would somewhat assume that they are expecting the best that that the technology could do.

 

gxseries,

 

Very good question, indeed. :ninja:

 

Remember "lint marks" thread we discassed? I said there that some commemorative Russian coins have lint marks, and we all know that lint marks usually are found on PR or SP coins. Also many commemoratives were graded by grading services as MS, MS PL and PR. So I think some of the pieces were graded by grading services in error, just the same as 1979 Ruble you pointed out in another thread is "Улучшенного качества" (or as we say for US coins Special Mint Sets quality), but was graded as Proof by NGC.

 

Here is the same. Some coins, should be graded SP, definitely they were made somehow differently from regular MS coins and Proofs. For 1859 Commemorative Ruble, for example, there are "high relief" and "low relief" varieties, and many show mirror-like fields. Does not "high relief" sound as if die was prepared for SP strike (remember we discassed that SP coins sometimes have higher relief than MS coins)? And low relief as MS? I do not know, but it may be. No one ever did research on this since to do so you have to have may be a dozen of different 1859 coins all in MS-63, PR-63, MS63PL quality or better, and no one has that, even museums. Another story is 1913 Commemorative Ruble, low relief there was not pleasantly looking and changed to higher relief variety to strike MS coins.

 

Most people prefer to repeat after "official sources", there were no Proof or SP coins at that time since it is "modern technology". They know what they are saying, they do not know why?

 

And coins made with "fresh dies" also applies to SP and PR coins, this kind is made with fresh dies too, dies are not worn and pair of dies strike usually much less coins than MS dies, before being changed to a new once.

 

WCO

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Very interesting discussion.

 

To Oldman, yes that is my conclusion. They are, for the most part, simply very well struck coins on better planchets with exception surfaces and luster. One cavet tho: except in the case of solid documentation I do not believe in the term Specimen because I do not believe that they were deliberately produced. I conclude that most coins designated as Specimen are simply really nice pieces off fresh dies that came out that way as a natural consequence of normal production. In sum, Specimen is generally a marketing term not a documentable or technical assignation.

 

To WCO, I'll have to disagree that the method for producing true specimen strikes is a technology, but then I'm an engineer and terms to me have very specific meaning. Producing an item via hand selection using current processes and equipment is not a technology it is a manually influenced process. I very much doubt that the TPGs will start using more "precise" or "technicallycorrect" terms. IMHO, TPGs are in the business of assisting in the marketing of coins not necessarily in accurately describing or providing proper attribution.

 

To bobh, yes "the first bliny is always a lumpy mess". All presses take some adjustment to get the proper strike. And, in the case of a manually-powered screw press the pressmen need to get in-sync to produce good strikes. The first 10 or so coins off a run are likely not too nice. And yes, it is impossible to tell where "first strikes" end and normal production begins - as long as the dies remain relatively fresh a nice coin can simply pop out as a normal consequence of production. As with"specmen" I likewise hold "first strike" to be a marketing term is the absence of solid documentation.

 

IMHO, this first strike nonsense has recently been taken to the absolute height of silliness with the proclamation of a really nice 1794 US Dollar as "the first one struck". In light of the foregoing discussion, the complete absurdity of this claim should be completely obvious (except, of course, if you happen to own the coin and want to market it for a truly huge premium).

 

I also agree that it is doubtful that people would generally line up for a specimen of a regular run coin. IMHO, true specimen strikes would have been special strikes of new issues (be they regular production, proofs, or commems) for dignitaries and influential collectors. They were likely made just before or right at the beginning or regular production. Dealers, marketers and some collectors will probably not be too enthused with my very technical definition for obvious reasons.

 

To gxseries, as RWJ noted this was common in the US mint and I recall some mention of it with respect to French and British, so I think this was a fairly common practice. There are records in the US archives of collectors writing in to obtain coins. Sometimes the mint would turn then down saying they did not have a piece available, so I think RWJ's conclusion of a small stock for trade or sale is the case. But, there were instances where the mint would trade from its in-house collection to obtain something it wanted and there are cases where "enterprising mint personnel" struck pieces from older dies for sale or trade to influential persons. I likewise presume the same occured elsewhere.

 

 

To boil it all down, I personally will not recognize any assignation other than business strike and proof without solid documentation. All else falls into the category of "how nice is it and what do I figure its worth".

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To boil it all down, I personally will not recognize any assignation other than business strike and proof without solid documentation. All else falls into the category of "how nice is it and what do I figure its worth".

 

 

Great! This is what we all have been trying to convince Mr WCO in. He's been very tough rejecting obvious facts.

Mr WCO - just accept it :ninja:

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....

To WCO, I'll have to disagree that the method for producing true specimen strikes is a technology, but then I'm an engineer and terms to me have very specific meaning. Producing an item via hand selection using current processes and equipment is not a technology it is a manually influenced process. I very much doubt that the TPGs will start using more "precise" or "technicallycorrect" terms. IMHO, TPGs are in the business of assisting in the marketing of coins not necessarily in accurately describing or providing proper attribution.

....

 

Dear rittenhouse,

 

Here is what word "technology" means according to encyclopedia:

 

From Wikipedia:

 

... In human society, it is a consequence of science and engineering, although several technological advances predate the two concepts. Technology is a term with origins in the Greek "technologia" ("τεχνολογία") — "techne", "τέχνη" ("craft") and "logia", "λογία" ("saying"). However, a strict definition is elusive; "technology" can refer to material objects, such as machines, hardware or utensils, but can also encompass broader themes, such as systems, methods of organization, and techniques.

 

So I guess "technology of minting of coins at a mint" may include machinery, tools, techniques, methods of organization. I do not know what "specific meaning" you think there is from a point of view of an engineer. Is it machinery only, and luck of the rest?

 

For me when in description of a technological process there is a change in characteristics of machinery that may be used to strike a coin, or methods of organization, or techniques, means that there is a change in technology. And different coins are being struck using different technologies therefore.

 

....

To boil it all down, I personally will not recognize any assignation other than business strike and proof without solid documentation. All else falls into the category of "how nice is it and what do I figure its worth".

....

 

Interesting, so you do think there is difference in technology between making MS and Proofs. Are there only two different technologies? Would be interesting to know, in what category you will put US Special Mint Sets (are they Buisness Strike or Proof)?

 

All I know, if anything would be that easy as you are saying, then there would be a single technology and just two grades: "I like it" and "I do not like it". In reality it is quite complex.

 

Great! This is what we all have been trying to convince Mr WCO in. He's been very tough rejecting obvious facts.

Mr WCO - just accept it :ninja:

 

Thank you Oldman, I am not that easy to convince, I know. ;) But I appreciate the effort, and really enjoyed the discussion. ;)

 

Best regards,

 

WCO

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Oldman, I think I do see what WCO and rittenhouse are trying to say.

 

Impressions of coins mainly depend on the state of dies as well as the pressure of the dies striking. I don't quite see why "specimen" coins MUST be proof or uncirculated.

 

Usually by my impression of "specimens", I expect some sort of certificate or paperwork from the mint, certifying that it was struck "differently". If that doesn't exist, ok, but it does make it a lot harder to identify the differences.

 

Another defination I was thinking about "specimens" is that, it's something that the Mint considered it to be "different" from it's usual strikings, such as fresh made strikes, trials, errors, etc.

 

Here is a scenario: Supposely if it takes 200 tons to make a regular uncirculated coin and 400 tons to make a proof coin (I have no idea about the exact figures), what happens if there is a pressure strike of 250, 300, 350 tonnes as some kind of adjustment was made? Would you be able to notice all the differences???

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Again very interesting.

 

 

To WCO:

 

1. Interesting, so you do think there is difference in technology between making MS and Proofs.

 

Actually I don't "think" anything, I merely recognize what the historical records document and they do document different processes and generally different equipment for proof and business strike.

 

2. Are there only two different technologies?

 

Not sure what you mean.

 

3.Would be interesting to know, in what category you will put US Special Mint Sets (are they Buisness Strike or Proof)?

 

I thought I was pretty clear on this point. Perhaps you missed it so let me repeat: "I personally will not recognize any assignation other than business strike and proof without solid documentation." Since there is solid documentation on the processes used to produce the SMS and they are clearly labeled as such, I accept them as Special Mint Sets just like the mint says.

 

4. just two grades: "I like it" and "I do not like it".

 

In reality those ARE the only 2 grades, the rest is pricing.

 

 

To gxseries:

 

1. I don't quite see why "specimen" coins MUST be proof or uncirculated.

 

I think you mean proof and business strike, uncirculated is a state of preservation not a method of manufacture. Anyway, I suppose they don't. A mint could use a hybrid of proof and business strike planchets, processes and equipment. However, all of the pieces I've seen labeled as Specimen by the TPGs have been really nice business strikes. I don't ever recall seeing a "Specimen Proof".

 

2. Another defination I was thinking about "specimens" is that, it's something that the Mint considered it to be "different" from it's usual strikings, such as fresh made strikes, trials, errors, etc.

 

You can, of course, use any definition you desire. Personally, I think you're going to run into some serious communication problems if you try to "re-label" an error, pattern, die trial, first stikes, etc. as "Specimen". And getting others to accept it (i.e., pay for it) is another matter.

 

3. Here is a scenario: Supposely if it takes 200 tons to make a regular uncirculated coin and 400 tons to make a proof coin (I have no idea about the exact figures), what happens if there is a pressure strike of 250, 300, 350 tonnes as some kind of adjustment was made? Would you be able to notice all the differences???

 

From my experience in the stamping industry the answer is: "No, within reason". The process for a given stamping has both a min and max pressure. As long as the press was applying pressure within that range, the stamping came out properly formed. Too little pressure and the design was insufficiently imparted, too much pressure and the stamping was distorted/damaged and/or the tooling was damaged. Within the range you could not sort out which stamping was made at any given pressure.

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... I don't quite see why "specimen" coins MUST be proof or uncirculated.

 

I think you mean proof and business strike, uncirculated is a state of preservation not a method of manufacture. Anyway, I suppose they don't. A mint could use a hybrid of proof and business strike planchets, processes and equipment. However, all of the pieces I've seen labeled as Specimen by the TPGs have been really nice business strikes. I don't ever recall seeing a "Specimen Proof".

...

 

gxseries (as it looks for me) wanted to tell that Specimens may have appearance closer to Proofs or closer to Business Strikes. Many Canadian and Swiss SP coins look visually very close to Proofs.

 

-------

There are lots of different opinions and little understanding from numismatic publicity on the subject, this is what I see. Another observation, TPG's should better do their educational task, and leave no doubts to everyone what means PR, MS, SP that found on a slab.

 

Best regards,

 

WCO

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