[The following excerpt is published courtesy of DLRC Press and its author, David W. Lange. This information was originally published in 2005 in The Complete Guide to Mercury Dimes]
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RARITY: Circulated examples through grade Very Fine are not particularly scarce, Fine and VF being perhaps the most available grades. Mint state survivors are far fewer in number and remain in constant demand.
Just a single example has been certified higher than MS-66. This remarkable coin grades MS-68 but lacks full bands.
COMMENTS: This is the most highly sought variety in the Mercury Dime series. Its popularity stems from being the most obvious and visually compelling variety. Also adding to the demand for this overdate is its notoriety over the past 60+ years, having been discovered and illustrated within months of its coining. The Philadelphia Mint overdate has been a fixture in the “Red Book” since early editions, and this has further guaranteed its place in numismatic legend. Until recently it was also the only one of the two overdates to be included in coin albums.
Almost overlooked by collectors, who focus primarily on the coin’s date, is the fact that this variety is actually a doubled-die obverse (photos). This type of mishap occurs during the die preparation process. Until the 1990s, when the U. S. Mint perfected the complete impression of dies in a single hubbing, the sinking of a working die from a working hub requires that two impressions be taken, with a break in between for annealing, or softening of the die. If the second impression is slightly misaligned with the first, the more common form of doubled die results (an example of this doubling is the 1941-D dime illustrated on page 187). But what happens when hubs of two different dates are employed for successive impressions of the die?
As early as September 1941, dies were being prepared at the Philadelphia Mint for coins dated 1942. A demand still existed for new dies dated 1941, and these too were in production. In at least two instances, a working hub dated 1941 was used for the initial impression of a new dime die, while the second impression came from a hub dated 1942. The result was a pair of overdate dies, one employed at Philadelphia, the other shipped west to Denver. Whether or not anyone at the respective mints noticed this peculiarity in the dies is unknown, but the same circumstances account for other 20th Century overdates such as the 1918/7-D and 1943/2 -P nickels, the 1918/7-S quarter dollar and the 1909/8(P) double eagle.
While the mints’ employees may have failed to notice the overdate, collectors did not. The ‘P’ Mint variety was discovered in circulation by Arnold Cohn of Kingston, New York and reported to The Numismatic Scrapbook Magazine in time for its March 1943 issue. Despite the lessons learned from previous encounters with Mint officials, Scrapbook Editor Lee F. Hewitt submitted Mr. Cohn’s dime to Chief Engraver John Ray Sinnock for evaluation. Although Sinnock did not attempt to deny the coin’s authenticity, he did initially offer an explanation of its origin which a person in his position should have known to be impossible. His first suggestion as to how this variety came about was that a 1941 dime was overstruck with a 1942 die! Perhaps realizing the incredible nature of this explanation, he then presented readers of Hewitt’s publication with a streamlined rendition of what is now known to have been the actual cause—the use of two differently dated working hubs in the sinking of a single working die.
In disputing the suggestion that a 1941 die might have been re-engraved to read 1942, Sinnock provided some background information which is worth including here:
In September of each year we start engraving the numeral in the new master die for the following year. We have no punches for these numerals since they were sculptured in the first place we follow the individual style of each sculptor. From this master die a working “hub” is drawn. This is re-touched if necessary, then hardened. This hub is used to fabricate all the working dies for that year. About one thousand dies with new date must be ready by January 1st of each year.77
A few years later, Mint Director Nellie Tayloe Ross reaffirmed that institution’s belief that the error had occurred during the final few months of 1941, when dies of both dates were being prepared:
During that period when utmost vigilance was required to keep the dies segregated by respective years, a die may have been given one blow with a 1941 hub and then, by some accident, finished with a 1942 hub.
All dies are usually inspected by a number of skilled workmen before they are delivered. Due to the heavy demands for coins, the Engraving Department had necessarily streamlined its operations and such an imperfect die apparently escaped detection.78
The May 1943 issue of The Numismatic Scrapbook Magazine included a photograph of the 1942/41(P) overdate. Thus alerted to this variety, collectors began examining each and every 1942 dime encountered. As a result, an adequate number of slightly circulated examples survive of the ‘P’ Mint overdate, though truly Mint State coins are rare.
Widespread publicity of the 1942/41 dime led to a rapid escalation in value. This, in turn, gave rise to the seemingly inevitable counterfeiting of such coins. Most are actually crude alterations of genuine 1941 and 1942 dimes which were made during the heyday of popular coin collecting, circa 1955-64. These are easily dismissed by persons armed with a little knowledge. More alarming are the sophisticated counterfeits created since that time. These are usually struck from transfer dies created by using a genuine coin as the subject. For examples of various counterfeit and altered overdate dimes see Chapter 3.
Two photographs of genuine 1942/41(P) dimes are included on this page for comparison with any examples which may be offered. Note the principal diagnostic for this variety—a raised lump between numerals 4 and 1 near their bases. Also useful is the fact that most 1942/41(P) dimes have a diagnostic die scratch between the fasces and the olive branch. This scratch appears at the left of the fasces, about one-third of the distance from the bottom of the rods to the lowest horizontal band. In this protected location, it should remain visible even on well worn specimens. Finally, any alleged overdate which simply doesn’t look like the genuine examples shown must be a fake.
The diagonal die scratch which runs downward from the horizontal of the numeral 4, as seen in the photos, is common to most 1942 dimes and should not be used as a diagnostic for the overdate. Finally, it’s worth noting that this overdate is, in fact, 1942/1941, the first two digits likewise being doubled to some degree.
Most of the 1942/41(P) dimes found by collectors were taken from circulation in New York City and its suburbs within a few years of coining. People who handled large amounts of change, such as transit company workers and telephone box collectors, were especially successful in finding quantities of this variety. The few specimens now encountered in Mint State were likely taken from rolls which had been saved by collectors as ordinary 1942 dimes and only later discovered to contain overdates. Numismatic scholar Walter Breen reported that such a discovery did occur in 1954, some four rolls being found at that time.79 It’s not clear from his account whether all of the dimes in these rolls were overdates, but the number of known Mint State survivors suggests that they were not.