Collecting Planchets and Blanks
Planchets and blanks are a fascinating area of numismatics, and all collectors can find a place in their coin collections for them, since they are the unstruck discs of metal that all coins are struck on. In this article, we will be discussing what exactly they are, how to authenticate them, and how to collect them.
What is the difference between a planchet and a blank? These are a number of terms used to describe them, which can be confusing to collectors. Here are the two types of defined, at least in general terms.
Blank: a disc of metal which has been punched from a sheet of strip, and which does not have an upset rim. All blanks have no raised rim.
Planchet: a blank which was passed through an upset mill, and had its rims raised, and so is now called a planchet. All planchets have raised rims.
The confusion if often when collectors use the terms "type-1" or "type-2", in the place of or in addition to the words "planchet" or "blank". The terms “type-1” or “type-2” are not necessary, and using the simple term "blank" to indicate that it has no upset rim, or the term "planchet" to indicate a raised rim is all that is needed or should be used in our judgment.
Although it's not recommended to use the following terminology, some collectors will use the terms "type-1" and “type-2" to indicate the more precise step in the minting process that a blank or planchet has gone through, with the "type-1" indicating a blank or planchet which has not been annealed or cleaned, and the term "type-2" indicating one that has been both annealed and cleaned at the mint. This will then be connected to the term "blank", for example, as a "type-1 blank", meaning it has no upset rim and was not annealed or cleaned at the Mint.
A better way to describe such a blank or planchet is to simply describe it as a "unannealed blank" or "unannealed planchet”, and not to use the terms “type-1” or “type-2” at all.
So now that the difference between a blank and a planchet has been established, how are planchets (and blanks) authenticated? They have no design, and with thousands of coin types and designs how can a planchet be attributed?
The primary way to determine authenticity of a planchet is its weight, diameter, thickness, metal composition, specific gravity (if needed) and overall appearance of the planchet. These all much match up, otherwise the planchet cannot be determined. Additionally, a clue is the provenance of the planchet--was it found in a bag of Lincoln cents, or was it found mixed in with hoard of world coins? Although that by itself will not of course authenticate a planchet, it is helpful.
The weight and other technical factors are really just a matter of taking the measurements, weights, etc, but what about the appearance of the planchet? That is something learned through experience. One of the key factors in terms of appearance is the rim from the upsetting process. The upsetting of the rim is somewhat different on different coins and from different eras in terms of the sharpness, roundness, and texture of the rim. How do we know those planchet's rim characteristics for a particular era or series of coin? It is based on off-centers (or similar errors) that leave part of the original rim exposed to the viewer, but which still have the design visible to attribute the planchet to that coin design.
The surfaces of the planchet are key as well. Old planchets from 200 years ago were manufactured differently than modern planchets. They have more flaws typically, as well as more problems with the metal alloy, tending to have flaws and voids in the planchets. Modern planchets are manufactured to a higher standard, with pristine surfaces being the norm in recent years, and various other treatment processes to the planchets surfaces helping to distinguish to what coin series or to what "coin finish" the planchets were intended (proof, business strike, etc.) An old planchet would be expected to have toning or other surface issues--a modern example would be less likely to. And so it goes, there are many characteristics, and this list is not all of them.
Some series of coin had the exact same planchet weight, metal, and size for multiple coin series (such as shield nickels-Jefferson nickels), and cannot be distinguished apart with absolute certainty. However,
there are ways to generally distinguish them apart. For our example, Jefferson nickels are identical to their predecessors in every way, except for only two features.
First, they are visually different in appearance across the planchets’ surfaces. Second, they have a slightly different appearance on their upset rim. Sometimes, you will come across a 5c nickel planchet that is obviously not for the Jefferson series, and it's surfaces and upsetting show it really had to be a shield or a buffalo nickel planchet. Old nickel planchets tend to have more of a wire rim, or a slightly different shape than the modern Jefferson nickel planchets. Also, the quality of the planchet itself is far superior on a modern Jefferson nickel planchet compared to the often streaky, and perhaps flawed nickel planchets from 100+ years ago. These are substantially rarer than the "regular" Jefferson nickel planchets, but because they cannot be "proven", they tend to be shoved into the same category with regular nickel planchets.
Although they are different, the difference is not enough to say with certain “this is a shield nickel planchet” or “this is a buffalo nickel planchet.” The best that can be done is to say that a coin is not a Jefferson nickel planchet, and is either a shield of a buffalo nickel planchet.
These nuances are learned by examining thousands of planchets, and the more you look at them, the better you will become at distinguishing older types from newer types as well as simply authenticating them.
Although the last few paragraphs have discussed planchets specifically, blanks are also distinguished in most of the same ways, with the lack of a “rim” being the obvious difference, and the lack of a rim is in fact a substantial problem in authenticating blanks. Without the upset rim, it is much harder to tell if they are authentic, and as such, they tend to not be certified as often by grading services, and collectors have to be more careful to determine authenticity based on provenance, as well as surfaces. Buying examples certified by 3rd party grading services is a good idea on scarcer blanks and planchets.
Collecting planchets and blanks is often done by size and metal. A collection can be assembled based upon getting “one of each” size and metal of planchet and blank (you need both!) The modern series are relatively common for circulating coinage. Lincoln cent planchets can be had for a few dollars, and all the business strike, modern designs can be purchased for a few hundred dollars. However, getting silver planchets from the 19th century, or getting proof or special finish planchets can be much more expensive. Fortunately for collectors, proof planchets are far more common than they used to be due to hoards being found in the last few decades, which have made previously unknown or unique planchet types far more common (by common, 25 to 50 known instead of 1 or 2, etc.)
If you are unsure of your attributions skills, it is recommended you stick with certified examples from a major grading services, since there are fakes out there, as well as many foreign, token, or other blanks and planchets which are mistakenly attributed as “U.S” planchets or blanks.