Variety or Error - Explained!

Variety or Error - Explained!

Posted by Toby Adkins, Numismatic Scholar for on Feb 28th 2023

In the book 100 Greatest U.S. Modern Coins by Schechter and Garrett, 36 of the 100 coins are either variety or error coins! There is a reason there are 36 on their list. Rarity. But really, what is the difference? This is a question I hear often. The terms variety and error are often used interchangeably. However, they are far different technically. To keep it simple, a variety is an occurrence that repeats exactly and an error is an occurrence that does not repeat exactly. The confusion is often linked to the fact that some varieties are from a mistake and therefore people assume it's an error coin. Clear as mud? Examples forthcoming, I promise!

Both varieties and errors take place in one of three areas of the Mint. It happens in the planchet (or blank) making, during the die working process, or lastly during the striking process.

Regardless of how and why it happens, varieties and error coins are some of the most sought for by many collectors. In modern minting, neither happen often and it is far more likely to find these in older coins. However, it does still happen in modern coins and they too are prized by collectors. The 2008-W Reverse of 2007 Silver Eagle pictured below is the most popular variety of the American Silver Eagles. To learn more about the Silver Eagles - CLICK HERE.

A variety is an addition to a design that sets it apart and is repeatable. The 2008 Reverse of 2007 Silver Eagle pictured above is a good example of a variety. The only error that took place was the wrong reverse die was mixed in during striking. Another popular variety is the well known 1955 Doubled Die Penny. Look below and you can clearly see the doubling on the coin. The Silver Eagle variety occurred in the striking process, the penny in the die making process. However, varieties can also be on purpose as well. In 1878, the Mint made 8 tail feathers Morgan Silver Dollars and then started making a variety with 7 tail feathers to keep the eagle anatomically correct. All three of these are repeatable occurrences and by the very definition, varieties.

An error is something that happens to a mis-made coin that is not exactly repeated and keeps it from being intended for circulation. Error coins are often referred to as misstrikes but like varieties, the error can occur in the planchet as well as be a die problem. That being said, error coins are almost immediately recognizable and can vary greatly. An example of each could be a coin struck on a clipped planchet, an off center strike, or a coin struck by a defective die. Each error occurred in a different part of the minting process and again is not repeatable like a variety. Since errors are typically so recognizable, they are also easy to spot and many never leave the mint for circulation. This same recognition is also why they are so popular among collectors.


Varieties and Errors both represent the thing we all love about collectibles - it is something different that not everyone can have. Human nature hasn't changed, if everyone could have it, no one would want it! Searching for varieties and error coins is nothing new and has been popular for over a century. Often, the different varieties and errors value for quite a bit more than their "normal" counterparts... and that's pretty exciting too! Whether it's a variety or an error, most collectors are excited to find one. Happy collecting!