In coin collecting circles we often see a lot of emphasis placed on searching for coins of certain dates if we want to hit the big bucks with pocket change. Assuredly just about anybody reading this can rattle off a list of these rare coins - the 1909-S VDB or 1914-D Lincoln Cents, the 1916-D Mercury Dime, 1932-D and 1932-S Washington quarters, and so on. And just about any bullion stacker gets googly-eyed at the mere thought of finding any pre-1965 90% silver dimes, quarters, and half dollars in circulation. However, it seems far fewer collectors know much about the valuable error coins that they may be much more likely to find in pocket change.
Some error coins are quite popular with collectors, even garnering the limelight of the general media when crossing the auction block. Do the 1943 bronze and 1944 steel Lincoln cents ring a bell? They're both off-metal transitional errors that grab headlines when they make an appearance in a public sale. Of course, not all error coins are as well known as those six-figure Lincoln cent beauties. Yet, just about any collector attuned to the world of the numismatically offbeat can agree that error coins of any stripe are worthy of attention.
Broadstrikes, off-center strikes, rotated dies, weak strikes, overstrikes... You name it, they're out there - somewhere. Yes, many errors are relatively common, and others are exceedingly rare. But just about any or all of them can be found in circulation with enough searching and a little luck. Dramatic errors are challenging to come by in ordinary day-to-day cash transactions. Such pieces are rare, and there are plenty of people looking for them, so the odds are long that anyone is going to land a sensational off-center error or overstrike in change received at the nearby fast-food joint. Many of the most successful error coin collectors tend to find mint rolls and sewn bags the most fertile of searching grounds. Quality control at the U.S. Mint these days is tighter than at any time in recent memory, and relatively few error coins are escaping into the wild these days. Hence, older unsearched rolls and bags tend to be the most likely to yield an error of interest.
Yet, this doesn't mean the channels of commerce are devoid of any interesting modern errors. Consider the case of the 1982-D bronze small-date Lincoln cent, an off-metal transitional error born during the overarching move from bronze to copper-coated zinc planchets for the cent. It was 34 years before the first example of this error, long suspected but unconfirmed for decades, showed up in the hands of fortunate collector Paul Malone of Minnesota. He found the discovery coin in 2016 while weighing his 1982 cents to determine which were bronze. His piece later sold for $18,800 and publicity surrounding the serendipitous find inspired countless collectors to look for other examples of this once-elusive error. Another turned up in 2019, and others may still be waiting just around the corner.
So, what's the collector to do when their searching expeditions leave them empty handed? Don't give up! Some collectors wait years to land their first significant find made from a handful of pocket change or a freshly opened bag or roll. Everyday searches can lead to once-in-a-lifetime trophies like the 1982-D bronze small-date Lincoln cent. Plucking something more on par with an off-center error or broadstrike might be the more likely scenario. But for many error collectors, joy is derived by something so much greater than mere monetary profit. The thrill of the hunt is what drives every turn of a coin in a curious collector's hands, the hope of a tantalizing discovery constantly serving as the northern star on one's numismatic journey.