A Weekly CoinWeek Column by Greg Reynolds
News and Analysis regarding scarce coins, coin markets, and the coin collecting community #125 …..
From Aug. 4th to Aug 10th, Stack’s-Bowers conducted the official auction of the ANA Convention, which was held at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia. The two auction sessions on the night of Thursday, Aug. 9th were special. Here, I discuss U.S. ‘Mint Errors’ that sold during the ‘Rarities Night’ session.
Early in the evening, the “Battle Born Collection” of CC Mint coins was sold. I have recently written about auction results for the silver coins and, separately, for the gold coins in that collection. (Clickable links are in blue.) Later in the evening, the coins listed in the Rarities Night catalogue came ‘on the block.’ A week ago, I wrote about quarters in this event. Last Wednesday, I covered a variety of other items. Though not the leaders of the auction, the U.S. Mint Errors included are significant and should not be ignored.
Errors occur during minting processes. The resulting products are often items that are not quite coins. Many ‘errors’ are curious or entertaining items. Some qualify as coins, and other are just too unusual or twisted to be thought of as coins themselves. These are byproducts of coin production processes. It is true, however, that some of the items that are classified as errors were deliberately made. Some collectors prefer items that are extremely likely to have been unintentional. The origins and histories of many ‘errors,’ however, will remain mysteries forever.
There was a small, though exciting, group of U.S. Mint Errors in this Rarities Night event. The most famous error in this auction has the front (obverse) of a Washington Quarter and the back (reverse) of a metal dollar coin. It sold for $155,250!
I. What is a ‘2000’ Quarter/Dollar Mule?
A mule is an ‘error’ that has an obverse (front) and a reverse (back) that do not belong together and were never intended to be mated for regular, pattern or experimental purposes. (Pattern and experimental pieces are a topic apart from errors.)
The mating of a Washington Quarter obverse (front) with the reverse of a Sacagawea metal dollar is especially noteworthy. Clearly, the planchets (prepared blanks) used to make such mules in 2000 were intended (or originally planned) to be used in the production of Sacagawea Dollars as these are the brown-gold-bronze color that characterizes such coins.
Post-1964 Washington Quarters are copper-nickel clad and do not look like copper at all. Post-1964 Washington Quarters are somewhat white and look like the metal ‘nickel;’ these are nickelish. Indeed, they are similar in color to five cent nickels. The color of Sacagawea Dollars is much different.
Sacagawea Dollars were first minted in 2000 and are still being produced. According to the PCGS CoinFacts site, the composition of each Sacagawea Dollar is “ 88.5% Copper, 6% Zinc, 3.5% Manganese and 2% Nickel.” The Wikipedia, in contrast, states that the core is 100% copper and it is the “cladding,” the shell, that is 88.5% Copper, 6% Zinc, 3.5% Manganese, 2% Nickel, the composition that the CoinFacts site attributed to the whole coin. In contrast, the 2007 Red Book states that each Sacagawea Dollar has a “pure copper core with outer layers of manganese brass,” which are 77% copper, 12% zinc, 7% manganese and 4% nickel (Whitman, 2006, 60th edition, p. 220).
Sacagawea Dollars replaced Susan B. Anthony Dollars, which are standard copper-nickel clad coins, with the same (or very similar) composition as post-1964 quarters and dimes. Susan B. Anthony and Sacagawea Dollars are much smaller than the Eisenhower Dollars of the 1970s and U.S. Silver Dollars. Neither Anthony Dollars nor Sacagawea Dollars have been widely accepted by the general public. Is it annoying for a dollar coin to be smaller than a half dollar and not much larger than a quarter?
This Washington Quarter obverse mated with a Sacagawea Dollar reverse is an extremely famous ‘error.’ Indeed, some of the twelve to fourteen known have received tremendous publicity.
II. The Quarter/Dollar Mule in this auction
The Washington/Sacagawea mule in this auction is NGC graded “MS-67.” Although a year does not appear on it, errors experts have determined that it was minted in 2000. The price realized is $155,250 (= $135,000 + 15%). This is one of the highest prices on record for a U.S. Mint Error.
A very small number of World War Two era Lincoln Cent errors have sold for more than $155,250. (Please see my analysis of the 1943-S steel cent that realized $373,750 and my discussion of the 1943-D copper cent that reportedly sold for $1.7 million.) Last year, I reported that a Proof 1975 ‘No S’ Roosevelt Dime sold for $349,600 in the Aug. 18, 2011 Rarities Night event in Illinois. The Proof 1975 ‘No S’ dime is much rarer than the Proof 1968 ‘No S’ dime.
One collector in New Mexico owns at least eight of the twelve to fourteen Washington/Sacagawea mules. This fact prompts Saul Teichman to declare “the market is artificial when someone is hoarding these. Penny-dime mules are rarer and are better values.”
In April 2006, Heritage auctioned a mule with a 1999 Lincoln Cent obverse and a Roosevelt dime reverse, which was struck on a cent planchet. That piece is PCGS certified ‘MS-66 Red’ and it realized $138,000.
In 2006, a cataloguer at Heritage noted, “Only seven double-denomination mules had been certified by November 2003. Interestingly, the consignor of [the 1999 cent/dime mule] also owns two [more], a 1993-D cent/dime on a cent planchet and a 1995 cent/dime on a dime planchet.” The 1993-D piece was auctioned by Heritage in Jan. 2010 for $51,750, as was the 1995 “cent/dime,” for $57,500. Seeing a Lincoln Cent obverse on a ‘nickel’ clad piece is entertaining.
III. Sacagawea Dollar struck on Anthony Blank
As I mentioned, Sacagawea Dollar Coins are of a brown-gold-bronze color, while Susan B. Anthony Dollars are the nickelish color of post-1964 dimes and quarters. (I am here referring to business strikes not Proofs.)
A Sacagawea Dollar that is struck on a planchet (prepared blank) that was made to become a Susan B. Anthony Dollar is an error. Such a piece is readily apparent as it is not the proper color of a Sacagawea Dollar; it is nickelish. (No U.S. coins, not even five cent nickels, are more than 25% nickel in composition.)
The Sacagawea struck on an Anthony planchet in this auction is dated 2000-P and is NGC graded “MS-68.” It sold for $16,100.
According to Andy Lusting, this result is, in theory, “a reasonable value, but given the state of the market for small dollar errors, it is a very strong price. [It is on the] high side, compared to [market levels for] other errors, not crazy.”
By “small dollar errors,” Andy is referring to errors relating to Susan B. Anthony, Sacagawea, or Presidential Dollars. Small dollar coins were first minted in 1979. None were dated from 1982 to 1998. Susan B. Anthony Dollars were produced again in 1999, and Sacagawea Dollars have been produced since 2000. Presidential Dollars, which were first minted in 2007, are also in this category.
Saul Teichman “expected [this piece] to sell for $12,000 or $13,000. I have seen [other clad] Sacs and [also] golden susies sell for $8,000 to $9,000” in the past. Saul is saying that other Sacagawea Dollars struck on Anthony planchets have sold for $8000 to $9000, as have Susan B. Anthony Dollars struck on the brown-gold-bronze color Sacagawea Dollar planchets.
Teichman’s research enabled him to “pedigree about a dozen” Sacagawea Dollars on Anthony planchets and “there could be more,” Saul says. Teichman saw one at a dealer’s table at the ANA Convention. That one is also NGC graded “MS-68.”
Fred Weinberg remarks that he is “not aware of any other dates of Sacagawea dollars struck on Susan B. Anthony dollar planchets.” All are dated 2000-P. In response to my questions, Fred adds,“There are a few Sacagawea dollars struck on other denomination planchets, one on a dime, two or three on [five cent nickel planchets], one on a cent, five or six on clad quarter planchets, and about twelve to fifteen struck on already-struck Maryland State Quarters.”
In addition to numerous such ‘Sac. on Maryland’ pieces, the Heritage auction archives list some Sacagawea Dollars struck on Massachusetts State Quarters. There also exists at least one Sacagawea Dollar struck on a Kentucky State Quarter.
IV. Proof 1968 ‘No S’ Dime
From 1968 to the present, most U.S. Proof coins were minted in San Francisco and bear ‘S’ mintmarks. In 1968, all Proof U.S. coins were minted there and each was supposed to have an ‘S’ mintmark. The Proof 1968 ‘No S’ Roosevelt Dime in this auction is NGC certified “Proof-69” and it brought $28,200.
An NGC certified “Proof-69” 1968-S dime (with an ‘S’ mintmark) is valued in the Numismedia guide at $18.75. This same price guide values an NGC certified ‘Proof-68’ (not 69) 1968 ‘No S’ at $25,940. While I am not sure whether $28,200 is a strong price, an immediate point is that this error is worth a gigantic premium over a Proof dime of the same type and grade that is not an error.
My belief is that the production of some San Francisco Mint Proof dimes without mintmarks was truly accidental. To someone who is not familiar with the history of Proof issues, the absence of a mintmark would suggest that this 1968 ‘No S’ Proof dime was made in Philadelphia.
Until 1980, dimes minted in Philadelphia did not have mintmarks. If this dime was struck in Philadelphia, which it could not have been, the absence of an ‘S’ would not indicate an error.
I am under the impression that no one really has a grasp of the number of Proof 1968 ‘No S’ dimes that exist. While the data published by the PCGS and the NGC may include some repeat submissions of some of the same ‘No S’ errors, there still exist 1968-S Proof sets, with ‘No S’ dimes, in their original Mint packaging. Indeed, in regard to post-1964 ‘sets’ that were issued by the U.S. Mint and sold directly to collectors, with or without errors, there are many collectors who prefer to collect such sets in their original mint packaging.
There are also collectors who prefer Proof sets and “U.S. Mint Sets” from the 1950s in original U.S. Mint packaging, though such a preference is unusual for pre-1965 sets. It is common for collectors to demand post-1964 sets, especially Proofs sets that were minted from 1968 the present, in original Mint packaging. Some 1968-S Proof sets, with a ‘No S’ dime, remain intact and are usually traded by people who are aware of the value of a ‘No S’ dime. Once in a while, a previously unidentified ‘No S’ dime is found in an original set.
In the 1960s and 1970s, many people speculated by acquiring dozens or hundreds of Proof sets in their respective years of issue or not long afterwards. Some hoards may not have been disbursed. How many more ‘No S’ Proof coins are waiting to be discovered? If additional ‘No S’ Proof coins are discovered, resulting publicity may stimulate demand for all of them.
V. 1979-D Lincoln Cent Cluster
I wish that I could fully explain a cluster. The planchet feeding mechanism fails to function properly and the struck coin ejection mechanism may fail as well. Somehow, multiple planchets and/or struck coins become stuck in the coining chamber of a coining press (machine).
In a situation where there are multiple such items in the coining chamber, these will be pushed into each other when the hammer die, which is usually the obverse die, comes pounding towards the anvil die, usually the reverse die. If a planchet is where a planchet is supposed to be during striking, it will be struck at the same time that other planchets and/or trapped already struck coins are being pushed into each other and spread about the coining chamber.
Extra planchets and/or trapped coins will tend to wrap around the shaft of the hammer die. Presumably, extra planchets and/or already made coins come into contact with other parts of the coining apparatus as well. When a cluster is being created, a group of planchets, along with maybe a few already made coins, meld together and bond, as these are then pieces of very hot metal. In the case of the cluster just sold and some other ones, the ‘coin’ that was made before the hammer die retracts became bound to the other pieces and is a ‘full’ coin near the center of the cluster.
While trapped in improper positions in the coining chamber, some of the planchets and/or struck coins may be transformed to the point that these resemble twisted and curled rods. In the case of this cluster, it looks like struck coins and planchets are part of a piece of modern art that is dominated by twisted copper strips.
Before the recent ANA Convention, I had not thought much about clusters. So, I asked Fred Weinberg about them. Fred has handled many clusters. He had a couple smaller clusters at the ANA Convention. “There are a few dozen of them that range from ten pieces [including planchets and made coins] to thirty-five pieces, but I would have to say that there are only four or five such items that are thirty pieces or more of Lincoln Cents,” Fred reveals.
The cluster in this auction is “is dated 1979-D. The vast majority of such items [known] are all from Philadelphia, and are dated 1999 and 2000. Having it from Denver is most unusual, but [the Denver Mint origin does] not add much to the value,” Weinberg asserts. In Fred’s view, the fact that this cluster occurred twenty years earlier than most of the others “would add some value or desirability to it.” So, if all other factors are, more or less, equal, Weinberg is stating that “a 1979 Cluster would bring a premium over a 1999 Cluster.”
This cluster brought $10,925. Saul remarks that this is a “good price, a bit strong.”
Weinberg asserts that this is “among the largest clusters I’ve seen in over twelve years, very impressive, especially since it’s over thirty-three years old!” The $10,925 result “is about what this size Cluster is worth today, maybe a bit on the low side,” Fred suggests.
Andy Lustig has a different perspective, “I have seen a couple dozen clusters over the years. This is not one of the better ones. There are some fabulous ones out there. [The $10,925 result is] consistent with what they bring in private [retail] sales, strong, but realistic,” Andy concludes.
VI. 1944-D Steel Cent
A PCGS graded MS-62 1944-D Steel Cent seems to have sold for $94,875. A coin may sell at auction for a price that is less than the original reserve level. A consignor may agree to lower the reserve or an auction firm may agree to accept a lower commission so that a coin sells that would not otherwise have sold.
Officially, steel cents were minted only in 1943 and copper (or bronze) cents were not minted in 1943. Copper cents dated 1943 and steel cents dated 1944 were not planned by the U.S. Mint. In 2008, I wrote a two part series on such ‘errors.’ In part 2, I hypothesized that there exist a dozen 1944-D steel cents. In the interim, I have not perceived a reason to change this estimate.
The $94,875 result is moderate, in my view. Andy Lustig, in contrast, finds this result to be a “very strong price.” Lustig has been a full-time coin dealer for around thirty years and is a collector of U.S. Mint Errors.
VII. Indian Cent Reverse on Half Dime Planchet
It is curious that an Indian Cent reverse was struck on a half dime planchet. The obverse is blank.
“This piece is unique, as far as is known,” declares Fred Weinberg. “There aren’t any [full] Indian Cents on Half Dimes; there are a few known on silver dime planchets,” Fred adds.
Half Dimes are silver coins that were minted from 1794 to 1873, though not in every year in between. Usually, a half dime weighs about half as much as a dime of the same time period. Half dimes are much smaller than five cent nickels.
Perhaps a half dime planchet was stuck in a feeder mechanism or in a bin that had been full of half dime planchets. Later, it became unstuck when the same feeder mechanism or the same bin was was used in the process of producing Indian Cents. If so, this half dime planchet was fed along with a regular Indian Cent planchet into a coining press. It could be that, at the same time that the reverse design was imparted on this piece, an Indian Cent obverse was imparted on another planchet that was resting on top of this piece. I am not convinced, though, that this piece is a true error.
This exact same piece was auctioned by Heritage in 2004 for $9200. On Aug. 9, 2012, it sold for $6900. This is “somewhat of a bargain,” Lustig suggests,“on another day, $17,000 or more.” Fred Weinberg says “that $7,000 is very reasonable, and maybe $10,000 would have been expected.” Teichman, in contrast, suggests there is much less interest now in this sort of error than there was a few years ago.
In my view, this coin seems to have some technical issues, which could relate to the price realized being lower than some error enthusiasts expected. Maybe it was improperly stored or mishandled.
Generally, Teichman finds that “a lot of mint errors have been poorly cleaned over the years, especially off-metal ones, probably because a lot of [past owners] did not understand what they had. A lot of collectors did not take good care of U.S. Mint Errors. A higher percentage of mint errors have been cleaned than regular [very scarce] U.S. coins,” Saul emphasizes.
I wonder if pre-1934 U.S. Mint Errors that are of high quality, or at least score very highly in the category of originality, are greater prizes than many collectors realize. In the future, will relatively higher quality errors sell for larger premiums over equivalent or very similar errors that are of lower quality? Will errors with very much original surfaces, even if not gems, sell for larger premiums?
©2012 Greg Reynolds