Die adjustments during the first years of minting were not infrequent at the Philadelphia mint. Most notably, the 1907 Saint-Gaudens double eagle and the 1921 Peace dollar designs underwent modifications that resulted in highly collectible High Relief varieties. The early Cuban Star coinage, also minted at the Philadelphia mint starting in 1915, went through a similar adjustment period. From 1915, when the creation of the Cuban National Currency System was authorized, High Relief and Low Relief variations of certain Cuban coins were made. High Relief coins displayed a highly prominent, attractive Star, but it probably also posed technical challenges during the minting process, as additional strike pressure was likely required. Furthermore, the reverse strike was often very weak in High Relief coins, particularly at higher points on the reverse such as the Coat of Arms key and palm tree.
Unfortunately, there is not much information about the High and Low relief varieties, either published or on the internet, but their popularity has substantially increased since the early 1990’s, when they started to be listed in The Krause Standard Catalog of World Coins description reads: “Coins with high relief stars normally exhibit a weak key and palm tree on the reverse. Coins with low relief stars tend to exhibit much more distinct lines running towards the center of the star”.
NGC High Relief and Low Relief Varieties
- 20C 1915 HIGH RELIEF, COARSE REEDS
- 20C 1915 HIGH RELIEF, FINE REEDS
- 20C 1915 LOW RELIEF, COARSE REEDS
- 20C 1915 LOW RELIEF, FINE REEDS
- 40C 1915 HIGH RELIEF
- 40C 1915 LOW RELIEF
- 40C 1920 HIGH RELIEF
- 40C 1920 LOW RELIEF
- PESO 1915 HIGH RELIEF
- PESO 1915 LOW RELIEF
PCGS High Relief and Low Relief Varieties
- 1915 20C Low Relief / Fine Reeding
- 1915 20C Fine Reeding
- 1915 20C Coarse Reeding
- 1915 40C High Relief
- 1915 40C Low Relief
- 1920 40C High Relief
- 1920 40C Low Relief
- 1915 Peso High Relief
- 1915 Peso Low Relief
Although the high and low relief varieties from the different date/denominations are always treated as just two distinct groups (high vs low), the reality is that the high relief varieties from different dates and denominations are distinctly different. See examples below. Headings link to pages with additional details.
All evidence suggests that most 1915 Cuban PESOS were initially minted with High Relief dies, including 1915 Proof PESOS and most circulation coins. Die adjustments were clearly made later in the mintage of the 1915 coinage, hence the rarity of the Low Relief variety.
The Low Relief relief PESO die variety was kept in subsequent years, what makes all 1916, 1932, 1933 and 1934 PESOS all Low Relief. No High Relief PESO varieties exist in dates other than 1915.
How to differentiate: Notice the very sharp features of the Low Relief star, whereas the ridges of the High Relief star are more rounded and raised.
Also looks like: 1915 Cuban proof pesos
Also looks like: Cuban silver 40 centavos 1916, 1920 Low Relief and 1915 Proofs
1915 40 CENTAVOS
Unlike the 1915 High Relief PESO, which seems to have been the initial design, evidence suggest that the initial 40 centavos design was Low Relief, whereas the High Relief variety was a result of subsequent die adjustments. 1915 40 CENTAVOS Proofs are all of the Low Relief variety.
The 1915 Low Relief relief 40 CENTAVOS variety is relatively rarer than its High Relief counterpart.
How to differentiate: Notice the flatness and lack of detail of the center of the High Relief star, compared to the shallow but sharp features of the Low Relief star.
Also looks like: no other date shows a High Relief with features like the 1915 High Relief.
Also looks like: Cuban silver 40 centavos 1916, 1915 Low Relief and 1915 Proofs
1920 40 CENTAVOS
Why the US mint used a high die relief in 1920 after having struck Low Relief 1915 and 1916 40 centavos pieces remains a mystery, but the fact is that 1920 40 CENTAVOS coins can be found in very distinct High and Low Relief varieties, with the Low Relief variety being scarcer. The only 1920 40 CENTAVOS Proof specimen is reported as High Relief, suggesting that the mint resorted to the High Relief dies before it reversed back to the Low Relief previously used in 1916.
How to differentiate: Notice the raised star of the High Relief, unlike the very shallow star of the Low Relief variety. The High Relief star features are much sharper than the 1915 High Relief star, but much more voluminous/raised than the 1920 Low Relief star.
Also looks like: no other date shows a High Relief like the 1920 High Relief.
Also looks like: Cuban silver 20 centavos 1916, 1920, 1932, 1948 and 1949
1915 20 CENTAVOS
In the 1915 20 CENTAVOS we find both High and Low Relief varieties with very distinctive features, the Low Relief star with very sharp features and a rounded, blobby, star in the High Relief variety. Interestingly, proofs in both High and Low Relief can be found, the only date and denomination for which this is true.
How to differentiate: Again, the key to differentiating is the difference in the lack of detail of the star, which has extremely sharp features in the Low Relief variety and rounded ridges and valleys in the High Relief. The High Relief star is also noticeably more voluminous/raised than its Low Relief counterpart.
Also looks like: no other date shows a High Relief like the 1915 High Relief 20 centavos.