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February 29, 2016

A Rough Reflection:

Die State Analysis of the 1947-S/S RPM FS-501 Washington Quarter

DM Rare Coins coin photography service illustrates a prooflike washington quarter that is also Cherrypicker's Guide RPM FS-501.

The concept of die progression is something of a mystery to many collectors and dealers. Yet, only a basic knowledge of what can be done to dies by the Mint, and what happens to dies as they wear, is required to understand the life of a specific die marriage. A common sense, physical examination of the die progressions of 1947-S/S RPM FS-501 shows that the occasionally encountered, granite-like, polished Prooflike coins are the earliest stages of the variety. Every stage of the dies, on all coins examined by us over a period of more than five years, shows remnants of the polishing. A close observer can watch the mirrors vanish and the lines slowly fade away, from stage to stage, while simultaneously seeing fine details disappear from the dies. The fact that these details can never be restored helps confirm that the more sharply detailed coins are the earlier impressions. Most evidence collected indicates that these coins are first impressions, despite contradictory evidence, on the Early Die States, of apparent starburst striations. This quandary remains unsolved, but we have put forth a possible explanation with our used die transfer theory. If correct, it is unclear, in a technical sense, whether or not the granite-like, polished Prooflike coins can be referred to as Early Die States, even though they clearly seem to be the first coins struck from their respective branch mint die marriages. For the sake of this discussion, we will nevertheless refer to them, here on, as an Early Die States.

The 1947-S/S RPM Cherrypicker’s Guide FS-501 Washington quarter was chosen for this study because this die variety is effortlessly distinguishable and relatively easy to find in various die states, although the Early Die State coins are rare. This study can be repeated for a number of other issues known to be affected by this granite-like polishing pattern, and so the example of the 1947-S/S should not be viewed as an isolated case.

While some features disappear quickly; like the Prooflike surfaces, which last for only two to three stages, some features linger on through the life of the die. The scattered rough spots and some of the finer die scratches actually become more pronounced for a short time in the early and middle stages before starting to fade away during the middle to late die states. Eventually, only the strongest features hold up to heavy die wear, but the ability to trace those features through the life of the die allows us to establish the correct chronology.

For instance, the obverse shows a particularly strong group of parallel die scratches in the left field below and across the L of LIBERTY. On early stages, the lines run the length of the left field. On later die states, the lines shorten, and by the terminal stage, only the faintest traces of the polishing lines near L and on the nose and mouth remain as reminders of how pockmarked this die once looked before die wear turned the surfaces into a thick, even frost.

Additionally, Washington’s nose has a distinctive series of polishing lines running across the bridge and into the nostril, and a pair of parallel die scratches rising up at an angle from Washington's lip. These distinct die lines are visible on each stage, but of course disappear when the new obverse die appears in stage G.

Additionally, the original obverse die of FS-501 is a minor DDO, with mild separation to the south on IN GOD WE TRUST. This becomes important because, in the last stage of the obverse die, after parts of LIBERTY and IN GOD WE TRUST became indistinct due to due wear, the obverse die was replaced with another polished die. Because this polished replacement die is not a DDO, it is clear the same obverse die was not simply refurbished.

The reverse die is much easier to follow through the stages, due to the strong RPM. The glassy fields around the RPM change to satin and then the heavy frost, as the die deteriorates. Nevertheless, the reverse also shares several distinct diagnostic features.

Early and middle states show a patch of five short, heavy, parallel die lines adjoined to the eagle’s beak.

All stages show at least a remnant of several long, curving die scratches running the length of the eagle’s left-facing wing (from top corner to wing tip), in addition to another squiggly die line beneath the left side of the wreath, above QUAR. These meandering die lines could easily be mistaken for die cracks, if one were to examine only one die state. However, these lines actually fade away as the progressions continue, unlike die cracks, which typically stay the same or get larger with natural die deterioration.

This reverse die actually does develop a die crack on that wing in the Very Late Die State, around the same time that the obverse die was changed, and just as the last traces of the long die lines had virtually disappeared due to heavy die wear. The Mint clearly prioritized the quality of their obverses over that of their reverses, and deemed this heavily worn, cracked stage an acceptable match to a new obverse.

Clearly, all of the above progressions originate from the richly Prooflike, heavily polished A stage. However, even the earliest stages seem to show evidence of star bursting from heavy use. After more than five years of searching, we are still unable to locate an impression made before the dies were refinished, strongly suggesting that, for whatever reason, this die marriage did not strike FS-501 quarters prior to the polishing treatment. For further reading, we recommend reading our sister article, "Jekyll & Hyde: The Prooflikes of 1934 to 1954."