What are Patterns - A Pictorial Essay
by Saul Teichman
September 1, 2000

The following article describes the various coins usually collected in the pattern series. These definitions are often deliberately vague and experts disagree on the proper classification of specific issues as many coins collected under the pattern umbrella fit in more than one category.

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Essai or Pattern this is any coin struck from a prototype die or dies to test a new design or concept. Some of these like the "Schoolgirl" dollar below are more beautiful than the accepted design.



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Experimental Piece this is any coin, pattern or production piece either struck in a new metal or alloy for the purpose of testing the alloy or to test a new edge device. Often, but not always, these were struck from pattern dies.

Below is an example of an experimental planchet to make gold dollar coins larger.



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Below is an example of a pattern created to test an experimental new alloy containing silver, copper and nickel.



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Regular Dies Trial Piece this is any off-metal striking from production dies on normal sized planchets. In the early years, pre-1800, die trials were just that; coins struck to test the dies. In later years, 1863 and beyond, most were deliberately struck for sale to collectors in complete off-metal sets. They are usually but not always struck from proof dies. Those prior to 1863 tend to be struck from regular business strike dies.

Many so-called die trials are actually off-metal restrikes made later than the year on the coin itself. Examples of this include two cent, trimes, half dimes and dimes offered in sets with such coins as the 1863-1864 with motto reverse coins. Other pieces appearing to be die trials are actually mint errors, accidentally or deliberately struck on the wrong planchets. Possible candidates include Indian cents, plain edge half dimes and three dollar pieces struck in nickel.

Generally speaking, off-metal trials are most often found struck in copper, nickel and aluminum. In order of rarity, copper tends to be the most common, followed by aluminum with nickel being the rarest.

Below is an example of a double eagle regular dies trial piece struck in aluminum.



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Mule is, simply, any coin struck with mismatched obverse and reverse dies, ie., dies not originally intended to be used together. Other mules contain the obverse of one denomination and the reverse of another. The most extreme examples of mules include two-headed or two-tailed coins. Most mules were deliberately struck for sale to collectors.

Pictured below is an 1859 "transitional" dime (J233), which was coined using the obverse of 1859 combined (muled) with the reverse of 1860. This is the famous "coin without a country", so named because neither of the two muled dies contains the legally required legend identifying it as a US coin.



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Mint Restrikes any coin restruck at the mint of which original strikings from these dies exist. These were usually created for sale to collectors at a profit by mint officials.

The 1836 Gobrecht dollar Judd 60 is an example of a coin the mint restruck on various occasions.



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Fantasy Restrikes any coin struck at the mint for which no original strikings exist. These could have been struck using pattern or non-pattern dies. These were usually created for sale to collectors at a profit by mint officials.

An example is the Gobrecht half dollar below struck in the 1870s, using an obverse die from 1839 and a reverse die from 1838, a combination never before used.



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Private Striking from Mint Dies these are coins struck from dies sold by the mint as scrap metal primarily by or for Joseph Mickley and Montroville Dickeson.

Below is an example of a private striking. For additional information on these, click here.



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Private Pattern from Non Mint Dies - these are coins struck by outside persons or companies either under contract for the mint or in the hopes of getting a mint contract.

Below is an example of a design for a $3 gold pattern by Mirriam.



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Splashers according to Taxay's "Counterfeit Mis-struck and Unofficial U.S. Coins" are one-sided strikings made by pouring molten lead onto a piece of paper and impressing the metal by hand with the die.

We use the term more broadly to describe one-sided strikings of coins for the purpose of testing how a design is coming about whether or not they were struck when the metal was molten or whether the piece is paperbacked. They exist in two forms die trials and hub trials.

Die trials look like a regular coin as they were struck from a die. An example is below.



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Hub trials are struck from the hub. A hub is normally created as a master to create dies from. Because of this, it produces incuse mirror images when used to strike coins as shown on the splasher below.



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This explains the basic types of coins described as Patterns.