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What causes “Orange Peel” on proof coinage?

This thread is related to a previous thread posted by Carl Wohlforth showing a Jefferson nickel with quite “rough” surfaces. Carl asked the question: “What causes this "orange peel" look? The response was pretty universal that the look of the Nickel that Carl posted was from die wear or die deterioration.

Link to Wohlforth thread

Shylock posted a picture of an Indian Head cent that had “Orange Peel” surfaces. This resulted in a discussion as to what caused this “orange peel” look and also, exactly what were we talking about. Although the look of die wear in the fields of a coin does have somewhat of a roughness like the peel of an orange, the reference to an “Orange Peel” surface has it’s origin from the car painting industry. When the auto industry switched from enamel paint to lacquer (I think in the 30s or 40s) a new phenomenon appeared - an “orange peel” look that resulted when the coats of painted were applied a little too heavy. This is the “orange peel” look that Shylock and I were referring to. Here’s a paraphrased discussion of orange peel as it relates to auto painting:

<< <i>orange peel” is old nemesis to painted finishes. Any way you look at it, orange peel is bad news. When a car rolls off the assembly line with this wavy, light-and-dark pattern hiding somewhere in the paint - that’s bad. While paint makers have succeeded in developing very high gloss liquid coatings, there are still underlying problems in controlling waviness (orange peel) in the final appearance of finishes. >>

It’s exactly this “waviness” that Shylock was trying to depict in the proof IHC that he posted. It is extremely difficult to photograph this effect, but once you’ve seen it on a proof gold coin or an IHC, you’ll understand why it's referred to as an “orange peel” look.

Now here’s a couple of observations:

I have only seen this on 19th and early 20th century proof coins - specifically proof IHCs and proof gold. I’ve never seen it on modern US Mint proof coinage (1936 to date). It’s a somewhat shimmery look - like sunlight reflecting off of water. I have sometimes seen it is described as a "Watery" look in auction catalogues.

Here’s Rick Snow’s (Eagle Eye Rare Coins - he specializes in Indian Head Cents) description as to how this occurs:

<< <i>“After the dies are hubbed and the date is applied, the die is given multiple polishes with progressively finer and finer polish. The last polish given to the dies prior to being hardened gives the field a surface quite like a mirror. This is the deepest mirror attainable on the dies. When the die is hardened, the metal shrinks slightly creating a wavy effect on the polished surfaces. It looks somewhat like the surface of an orange. When you see orange peel on a proof issue you can be sure that it is one of the first examples struck from those dies. Later polishing to the already hardened dies will produce a flatter and shallower mirror.” >>

I would add that the dies don't have to be re-polished for this look to disappear - after the first few coins are struck, the metal to metal contact from the striking process has its own "polishing" effect and the waviness is minimized to the point where it is no longer visible on the struck proofs. (The same is true regarding the Cameo look of the first struck coins: after successive strikings, this cameo looks disappears, I believe due to the die wear that has initially "polished" away the "roughness" of the recessed devices of the coin die and perhaps also the filling of the recessed portions of the die with dirt, dust, oil, etc. that would tend to minimize the "cameo frost" on the struck coin.)

Some of our members who are familiar with dies, metal hardening and the minting process have questioned this, but I tend to agree with Snow’s description because my experience is that you only see this look on early strike 19th century proofs (and the 1st few years of the 20th Century), the same coins most likely to exhibit a cameo look.

Can anyone add to our understanding of what causes this "orange peel" effect?

Is Snow’s explanation of what causes it correct? or is there a more detailed or better explanation?

Has anyone seen this look on proof silver coinage or Nickel coinage?

Why doesn't it appear on modern proof coins? (Or does it?)

Collecting eye-appealing Proof and MS Indian Head Cents, 1858 Flying Eagle and IHC patterns and beautiful toned coins.

“It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so.” Mark Twain


  • BigMooseBigMoose Posts: 1,466 ✭✭✭
    Newmismatist, I think Rick and your descriptions of "orange peel" are accurate. From my understanding, when the dies are hardened after polishing( to make them hold up well and strike many coins without developing die cracks, cuds etc.), I believe they are heated( annealed ), and as the dies cool down after the heating process, the fields shrink slightly and unevenly, producing the "orange peel effect" which is unmistakeable after you have seen one example.
    I have no idea why this "orange peel" effect is not seen on Proof silver or nickel coins. I myself have only seen it on Proof Gold and Proof Indian Cents, primarily from the 1880s to the early 1900s. It must have something to do with the method of manufacturing at the Mint at that time. Also, gold and copper are Softer metals than silver and nickel, and this may also have something to do with why you don't see "orange peel" on Proof silver and nickel. TomT.

    Check out some of my 1794 Large Cents on www.coingallery.org
  • BigMooseBigMoose Posts: 1,466 ✭✭✭
    Just one more thing to add, this "orange peel effect" is Extremely Attractive and is much sought after by collectors of Proof copper and gold coins.

    Check out some of my 1794 Large Cents on www.coingallery.org
  • RELLARELLA Posts: 960 ✭✭✭
    Do not fall into the error of the artisan
    who boasts of twenty years experience in his craft
    while in fact he has had only one year of experience...
    twenty times.
  • coinlieutenantcoinlieutenant Posts: 9,304 ✭✭✭✭✭
    I have had two coins that have had this effect. One I sold to a board member (1888 PF65 BN Indian) and one I still own (1895 PF65 Quarter Eagle).

    I have tried to photograph that effect many times only to be very frustrated....

    I dont know why this only appears on those two coins, although I suspect that it might on a very few other coins that we havent seen.

    The only thing that I can think of is different properties of the metals (mallebility, tinsile strengths, melting points) Gold, the softest of the three main types of precious metals used, probably owes its orange peel affect to those attributes, which can eventually be traced back to single atomic properties...

    In case I am way off, keep in mind this is conjecture, not fact...

  • I just caged 1956 proof Jefferson with bronze toned orange peel surfaces . Nickel also wears DDO ….which of two grading services would better suit coin with this surface ?
    Thank you for sharing, with appreciation JMK

  • GreenstangGreenstang Posts: 549 ✭✭✭

    Agree with the above.
    We will need pictures of both sides before we can help you.

  • IkesTIkesT Posts: 2,172 ✭✭✭✭✭

    @MFeld said:
    And I’m not sure what “caged” means.

    Perhaps it had been a very bad coin, so they put it in a cage...

  • MFeldMFeld Posts: 11,081 ✭✭✭✭✭

    @IkesT said:

    @MFeld said:
    And I’m not sure what “caged” means.

    Perhaps it had been a very bad coin, so they put it in a cage...

    Or a very good one that you don’t want to let get away from your collection.😉

    Mark Feld* of Heritage Auctions*Unless otherwise noted, my posts here represent my personal opinions.

  • NysotoNysoto Posts: 3,717 ✭✭✭✭✭
    edited May 3, 2023 3:28PM

    Orange peel is a metallurgical term that describes large grain size from annealing metal (coin blanks) at too high of temperature https://forums.collectors.com/discussion/comment/12029314#Comment_12029314

    edit - read down from the link to the Chris Pilliod (metallurgist) and Rick Snow article

    Robert Scot: Engraving Liberty - biography of US Mint's first chief engraver
  • lilolmelilolme Posts: 2,320 ✭✭✭✭✭

    @lusterlover the pic didn't come through for me.

    Keeping the old thread going. I had used orange peel in talk about gold. Never distinguished between die and planchet type or really knew. Here is a link to a thread and comment about the die and orange peel. Some other comments in it also.


    Prior Morgan thread:

    Then the error-ref also uses the term orange peel to describe some fields from deteriorated dies.


    I am thinking there are probably other uses of orange peel with coins.

    I am guessing no one has hit the patent / trademarked for the 'coin term'. :D (that's a joke)

    https://youtube.com/watch?v=2YNufnS_kf4 - Mama I'm coming home ...................................................................................................................................................................... RLJ 1958 - 2023

  • FlyingAlFlyingAl Posts: 2,495 ✭✭✭✭✭

    Here's one of my coins that shows a nice orange peel (note date area):

    As others have stated, it is generally agreed that improper annealing causes the effect.

  • BStrauss3BStrauss3 Posts: 2,912 ✭✭✭✭✭

    Which makes sense, these dies were long before we had any kind of objective (non contact) measurement devices and it was solely by eye.

    ANA 49 year/Life Member (now "Emeritus" because ANA can't count)
  • MaywoodMaywood Posts: 1,562 ✭✭✭✭✭

    Lots of nice conclusions drawn from the Pilliod article, most notably being that the Orange Peel effect has nothing to do with the dies. That point seems to have been at the center of all discussions and one promoted by Rick Snow as far back as the archives shows. It was nice of him to seek an outside professional opinion, post that article and solve the mystery.

    One of the things about it not being related to the dies: coins displaying this effect could evidently be struck at any time, whenever the right planchet made its way into the coining chamber. Previously the assertion had been that they were all "first strikes" until the dies wore and the surface changed. Ouch!! B)

  • OnastoneOnastone Posts: 3,680 ✭✭✭✭✭

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