RPMs might be familiar to you if you’re an experienced collector but they are usually unknown to novices. So, what are RPMs in coin collecting? Are they valuable, and how can you find them?
RPM in coin collecting stands for “repunched mint marks.” In the past, coins were stamped with a mint mark by hand. It took more than one press to create the shape in the finished die, so if the die or punch was moved, it resulted in overlapping shapes, creating a type of error coin called an RPM.
In this article, I’ll explain how RPMs are created, the types of RPMs, their value, and how to find them. I’ll also go over why I think they’re still created today before briefly speaking on mint marks and explaining why they’re still used in the present.
How Are RPMs Created?
If you’ve come across or were shown an RPM, you may have wondered how the error happened. How are RPMs created? What causes the error in the coin?
RPMs are created from a mishap in a coin’s creation. In the past, coins were pressed by hand. While crafting the die, a die maker would use a steel rod engraved with a mint mark and a mallet to impress the mark into the die. This took more than one hit, so errors were common.
Humans are naturally error-prone, and even more so without the aid of precision machinery. As a result, RPMs would occasionally occur, regardless of skill level.
RPMs are mostly a result of human error prior to the automation of coin-making. This means that most RPM coins are quite old. One might think this makes them valuable, but in truth, there are a startling amount of RPMs in circulation. Not all error coins are rare, and RPMs are one such example.
Are There Different Types of RPMs?
There are different types of RPMs, and they depend on how the mint marks are oriented. Whether they drift or overlap, their direction and rotation are categories used to describe them, along with a special notation to specify the error.
RPMs’ directions are found by following from the strongest pressed mark to the weakest. Letters are often used to describe them based on the type of error. For example, you can describe an RPM as “D/D North.”
First, the D/D lettering indicates that a “D” has been punched over another, weaker “D.” In addition, the north direction describes the direction from the stronger punch to the weaker one.
However, this isn’t the only type of RPM. Sometimes the mint marks overlap, with the stronger mark on top of the weaker. Instead of having directions, these coins are described as “rotated” or “tilted,” while marks rotated at a complete 90-degree angle are described as “horizontal.”
In addition, the mint mark can also be pressed into the coin instead of creating a raised mark. Such coins are described as “inverted.” There are also Over Mint Mark varieties of RPM, where a different letter is pressed over an existing mark. In such cases, they’re described by their letters, such as “S/D Inverted.”
Another type of error coin is a double-die coin, and it is commonly mistaken for an RPM. They’re created when a defective die causes them to have two images on their face instead of one. Double die coins are not RPMs, but you can learn more about them in my article: How To Spot Double Die Coins (8 Simple Tips)
So, as you can see, there are many types of RPMs. As with any coin, some of them are more valuable than others. But just how valuable are they?
Are RPMs Valuable?
Considering the seeming complexity of spotting RPM coins, you may wonder how much they sell for. Are they valuable?
RPMs aren’t incredibly valuable, and the rarest of them only sell for around $100 to $140. Most are valued at much less and usually sell below $50. While RPMs are often unique, they’re not rare, and this keeps their price low.
There are many factors that affect a coin’s value. Rarity, condition, fame, and many other factors determine how much it’s appraised for. With RPMs, rarity is usually the determining factor.
Because human error was so common in the past, there are many RPM coins in circulation. It’s not uncommon to collect them by going through pocket change.
However, these traits also make RPMs suitable for novice coin collectors. They cost little, and the ability to find and buy them easily will allow novices to gain experience working with coin dealers and buying coins in general.
So, while RPMs don’t have a lot of monetary value, they can be quite valuable to collectors in other ways.
How Can You Find RPMs?
RPMs aren’t hugely valuable, but they’re still interesting and fun to collect. However, how can you go about finding RPMs? Is searching through pocket change enough, or do you have to buy them?
One way to find RPMs is by purchasing coin rolls at dealers, coin shows, or even on eBay. Not all dealers sell a variety of coins, but if rolls are labeled with “RPM,” they’re likely to contain at least a few low-grade coins.
This can help you start your collection, but as it grows, you may have to start buying specific coins.
While you may find a few RPMs in your pocket change, they’re predominantly hand-crafted, old coins. Many of them are likely out of circulation and so will be hard to find if you’re just searching what passes through your hands.
Don’t fret, however. RPMs are mostly less valuable than other rare finds, so it’s unlikely to bankrupt you.
Try searching the internet for coins for sale. Many RPM collectors, and coin collectors in general, sell online and have their own websites listing RPMs.
Examples of RPM Coins
RPM coins have been made throughout history, so there are many categories and specific types, too.
Here are some examples of RPM coins you can find.
Washington Quarter Dollars were first minted in 1932 to replace the Standing Liberty Quarter, and to this day, it’s a go-to piece for those starting a new collection.
There are several types of RPMs for this coin, such as the “1946 D/D Washington Quarter,” whose final mint mark is typically situated to the north and touches the leaves pressed on the coin. It’s far from being the easiest to find, and in 2018 one such coin was sold for $576.
Some other types of RPM Washington Quarters are the “1953 D/D Washington Quarter,” the “1939 D/S Washington Quarter,” the “1947 S/S Washington Quarter,” and the “1940 D/D Washington Quarter.”
The most valuable of these coins is the 1947 S/S Washington Quarter, one of which sold in 2015 for $1,057. Good quality coins of this variety are worth several hundred dollars at the very least.
Lincoln Pennies are often overlooked, but in some instances, they can be very valuable. They’re also a common choice for collectors.
Like with Washington Quarters, there are several types of RPMs for this coin. One such type is the “1960 D/D Lincoln Penny,” which comes with many different errors and can be overwhelming to keep track of. These coins aren’t very popular, and one specimen was sold in 2018 for $69.
Some other types of RPM Lincoln Pennies are the “1938 S/S Lincoln Penny,” the “1956 D/D Lincoln Penny,” the “1927 D/D Lincoln Penny,” and the “1946 S/D Lincoln Penny.”
The most valuable Lincoln Penny on this list is the “1956 D/D Lincoln Penny,” one of which sold in 2014 for $1,292.
RPM Jefferson Nickels aren’t as numerous as Lincoln Pennies, but the ones that do exist are rather popular amongst collectors.
There are many types of RPMs for this coin as well, some of which being the “1942 P/P Jefferson Nickel,” the “1968 S/S Jefferson Nickel,” the “1964 D/D Jefferson Nickel” and the “1953 D/D Jefferson Nickel.”
The most valuable Jefferson nickel I’ve listed above is the “1968 S/S Jefferson Nickel,” one of which sold in 2014 for $1,705.
If you want to learn more about RPM coins, the YouTube channel “World Numismatic News” makes videos listing various types of RPM coins alongside their unique traits and their values.
Are RPMs Still Created Today?
With all this talk of hand-crafted coins and human error, you may wonder if there are modern RPM coins.
RPMs are unlikely to still be created today as minting machines are highly accurate. Finding a modern RPM would be extremely difficult and unlikely to be valuable to the collecting community.
Even so, modern-day RPMs are unlikely to be even remotely valuable for centuries. Coins gain value at an incredibly slow rate, and if you decide to collect them, you likely won’t see them become sought after.
But entrusting them to your children or grandchildren might give them something important to keep and help your family bond over a shared hobby.
What Are Mint Marks, and Why Do They Exist?
I’ve talked on and on about mint marks. But what are mint marks, and why do they exist in the first place?
Mint marks are used to identify which mint branch the coin was created. Since 1942, they’ve been present in our currency and are used to hold the creators of coins responsible for their quality.
Mint marks also help hold coin manufacturers accountable to material standards. Back when coins were made of precious metals such as silver, it was important to make sure the metal allocated was not being sold off for profit.
At the beginning of United States history, there was only one mint branch—Philadelphia. During these early years, mint marks weren’t used. On March 3rd, 1835, Congress began to mandate mint marks. However, they still weren’t commonly used until 1942.
In the mid-1960s, coins did not have mint marks. Due to a severe shortage of coins in circulation, the United States government temporarily abolished the use of mint marks on all coins to discourage collecting.
RPM stands for “repunched mint marks” and is the result of an error in the die creation process. There are many types, and they can sometimes be found by purchasing coin rolls, but they’re typically not hugely valuable.
RPMs can theoretically still be created today, but they’re unlikely to have any real value and would be extremely rare regardless.