High vs Low Relief Cuban Coins

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 since 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”.

The “distinct lines running towards the center of the star” is an element that most experts agree is key in identifying Low Relief Stars, particularly Low Star Pesos. These lines or valleys are a lot sharper in Low Relief coins, and can be easily identified even in circulated 1915 Star Pesos. Actually, the 1915 Low Relief Peso looks much more like the other dates of the series (1916-1934), with very well defined, straight, Star lines. On the other hand, the lines of the 1915 High Relief Peso are rounder and more diffuse, whereas the metal volume of the Star is generally larger.

Similar elements of design can help identify 1915 and 1920 High and Low Relief Star 40 Centavos. For coins that have not seen a lot of circulation the difference is quite obvious. The geometry of the High Relief Star is dramatically different. The center of the Star is almost flat and the lines are barely detectable, if at all. The valleys are again rounder and less defined than the Low Relief Star, which shows sharp straight lines running to the center of the Star. Differentiation of circulated High and Low Relief coins is more challenging, and attribution is generally based on the metal volume of the Star, and may be extremely difficult for coins in worse than Very Good condition.

1915 High Relief Star 40 Centavos

Note flat center and soft, rounded valleys

1915 Low Relief Star 40 Centavos

Note sharp, defined valleys running to the center

For 1915 High and Low Relief Star 20 Centavos, the same rules apply, although the valleys in circulated coins tend to be hard to recognize. 1915 Star 20 Centavos were also minted with Finely and Coarsely Reeded edges. High Relief 20 Centavos with Fine Reeding (HRFR) are more abundant, as are the Low Relief 20 Centavos with Coarse Reeding (LRCR). Although the edge reeding may support the Relief attribution, it should only be used as additional information and not as the only or main factor considered. Edge reeding will be covered in a separate post.

As described in the Krause catalog, “Coins with high relief stars normally exhibit a weak key and palm tree on the reverse “. Although this is true to some extent, classification should never be based solely on the weakness of the reverse strike, although it can be used in conjunction with the other elements discussed above when making a High or Low Relief classification.

High/Low Relief attribution may sometimes make a big difference, particularly when one of the varieties is scarcer than the other. For instance, the 2008 Edition of the Krause Catalog lists the 1915 Low Relief Peso in XF for $600, whereas the High Relief variety lists for $60. In Brilliant Uncirculated condition the Low Relief lists for $8,500 and the High Relief for $2,000. However, High and Low Relief Star 1915 40 Centavos lists for about the same price, and the 20 centavos price depends not only on the Star relief but also on the reeding. Importantly, professional grading services such as NGC and PCGS have recently started to attribute varieties, although coins with incomplete or incorrect variety designation are unfortunately still common.

As mentioned above, there is no much information available about High and Low Relief Cuban coinage. Actually, most (if not all) of the books available regarding Cuban Star coinage do not provide any information about this topic. One of the few sources is the article by Frank Putrow  “High Relief vs Low Relief – A Study In Contrasts”, published in the July 2004 Cuban Numismatic Association Newsletter.

We appreciate this is a confusing and controversial topic. Feel free to share your thoughts and comments below.

NGC High Relief and Low Relief Varieties

High Relief, Low Relief, Fine Reeding and Coarse Reeding varieties currently attributed by NGC

  • 40C 1915 HIGH RELIEF
  • 40C 1915 LOW RELIEF
  • 40C 1920 HIGH RELIEF
  • 40C 1920 LOW RELIEF

PCGS High Relief and Low Relief Varieties

High Relief, Low Relief, Fine Reeding and Coarse Reeding varieties currently attributed by PCGS

  • 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

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