Rare Proof dime error to make auction debut

Stack’s Bowers to offer one of two 1975 No S dimes
Published : 06/06/11
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An example of one of the rarest of U.S. coins struck since the 1870s, a Proof 1975-S Roosevelt, No S dime, will appear at auction for the first time in August.

Stack's Bowers Galleries will offer the coin, one of just two pieces seen and authenticated since 1975, during its official auction scheduled in conjunction with the American Numismatic Association World’s Fair of Money in Rosemont, Ill.

The coin being auctioned has been authenticated by Professional Coin Grading Service and its grade was being finalized as of June 2. The coin was previously authenticated by the American Numismatic Association Certification Service, or ANACS, in early 1978.

The coin is the rarest of six Mint mark-less Proof coins struck at the San Francisco Assay Office or Mint between 1968 and 1990. All such pieces were struck with an obverse die lacking the S Mint mark found on all regular Proof coins struck at the San Francisco facility.

Until the early 1990s, Mint marks were added to individual working dies at the Philadelphia Mint die shop, then distributed to the various Mint production facilities. On at least six occasions, defective dies were sent to the San Francisco facility for use in producing Proof coins. Dies for Proof coins undergo additional processing in order to achieve the highly mirrored surfaces, but in each case, no one at the Mint facilities noticed the absence of the S Mint mark from the dies.

The first example of the coin reported was first seen in July 1977, when the original owner, a collector who asked for anonymity, sent the coin to Coin World's Collectors’ Clearinghouse department for examination. The department was staffed at the time by the Clearinghouse editor, Thomas K. DeLorey, and the author of this article. The coin was housed within its original Proof set holder.

In a letter to the original owner dated July 29, 1977, written by this writer with the approval of DeLorey, the opinion was given that the dime was not a Proof strike. The letter suggested that the coin may have been struck from regular dies on an impaired Proof planchet. The San Francisco Assay Office was also striking circulation-strike 1975 Roosevelt dimes without Mint marks at the same time the Proof coinage was in production, making such a mishap feasible.

The Clearinghouse staff noted “tiny scratches, dents, dings, and other flaws on both sides of the coin” that were thought inconsistent with a Proof strike, according to the July 1977 letter, a copy of which remains in Coin World’s files. The letter’s writer noted, however, that the comments were “just an opinion based on what we have seen on your coin.”

After the set was returned, the owner sought a second opinion by submitting the set to ANACS for authentication. At the time, ANACS was owned by the American Numismatic Association and was strictly a certification service. It did not offer grading opinions at the time.

In early 1978, ANACS reported that it had authenticated the dime as a Proof strike after removing it from the plastic case housing the set, which was reported on Page 1 of the Feb. 22, 1978, issue of Coin World. The same article reported that a second example had been reported but not verified. ANACS authenticated a second example a few months later, reported in the July 5, 1978, issue of Coin World. As was typical when a significant new variety was reported, collectors and dealers began searching their 1975-S Proof sets for the dime variety. However, no other examples have been verified since the discoveries of the two sets.

According to Stack’s Bowers Galleries, “The presently offered coin was purchased in February 1979 by dealer Fred Vollmer, a professional who specialized in Proof coins and sets and appreciated the unique opportunity. In 1980 Vollmer sold it to the present consignor as part of a proof set. The set with the dime rarity has been off the market for 31 years!” Stack’s Bowers Galleries notes that the appearance of the coin in the ANA auction is a landmark, as the dime is “one of the very few United States rarities listed in the Guide Book of United States Coins that has never before sold at public auction!”

Notes the auction firm, “It is far and away the rarest United States coin since 1874 (the 1873-CC dime is unique and is thus rarer).” The firm estimates that the dime could bring a six-figure result when it is sold at auction.

Not the first such set

Prior to the release of the 1975 dime, the San Francisco Assay Office had produced three other Proof sets with coins lacking the S Mint mark:

➤ Proof 1968-S Roosevelt, No S dime: No mintage estimates have been published. PCGS has certified 18 of these dimes and Numismatic Guaranty Corp., six, per a study conducted by Stack’s Bowers Galleries researcher Andrew W. Pollock III, using those services’ data bases. Total certified by PCGS and NGC: 24.

➤ Proof 1970-S Roosevelt, No S dime: The Guide Book estimates that 2,200 sets were made with this error. PCGS has certified 197 of these and NGC, 37. Total certified by PCGS and NGC: 234.

➤ Proof 1971-S Jefferson 5-cent coin: The Guide Book gives the precise figure of 1,655 as the mintage of sets (according to information provided by the U.S. Mint) with this rarity. PCGS has certified 164 of these and NGC, 54. Total certified by PCGS and NGC: 218. After release of the 1975 set, two more similar errors were struck and released in Proof sets:

➤ Proof 1983-S Roosevelt dime: No mintage estimates have been published. PCGS has certified 166 coins and NGC, 76. Total certified by PCGS and NGC: 242.

➤ Proof 1990-S Lincoln cent: The set has an estimated mintage figure of 3,555. PCGS has certified 126 and NGC, 40. Total certified by PCGS and NGC: 166.

Why so few 1975 sets?

Why have only two 1975-S Proof sets been found with a dime sans the S Mint mark?

DeLorey, who since he initially examined the set in July 1977 has changed his opinion, now believing it to be a fully Proof strike, has a theory:

“The enigmatic 1975 ‘No S’ Proof dime remains one of the great American numismatic rarities AND mysteries. I still believe it to be a legitimate SFAO-struck piece, from a proofed die on a proofed planchet and struck on a Proof press, but when I originally saw it I was not aware that SFAO employees of that time were deliberately striking error coins, including Proofs, and smuggling them out of the building in the oil pans of fork lift trucks.

“If it was a legitimate die error, as happened in 1968, 1970 and 1971, then I suspect, but cannot prove, that the SFAO discovered the error before the coins struck from this un-mintmarked die left the mint, and dutifully destroyed all that they could find, but somehow missed a few. The SFAO was aware of the ‘No S’ errors of 1968, 1970 and 1971, and would have been strongly motivated to try to prevent another embarrassment from escaping.

“The fact that only one other coin has been discovered since we first publicized it in Coin World may simply mean that my hypothetical search and destroy mission was very thorough. One or two more might still be discovered over the years, but no significant quantity can exist. If I owned a 1975 Proof set, I would certainly check it.

” As DeLorey noted, during the early and mid-1970s, employees of the San Francisco Assay Office were illegally producing Proof coin “errors” and smuggling them out of the facility to confederates who would then sell them into the marketplace. The coins were placed into the oil pans of forklifts that were taken outside the facility for routine servicing. Confederates at the service facility would remove the illicitly struck coins from the oil pans and sell them to willing buyers.

Many of the Proof “errors” were featured in such publications as Coin World's Collectors’ Clearinghouse column and publicly displayed. The pieces were spectacular and many were of sizes and shapes that would preclude them from fitting into the hard plastic cases used for Proof sets during the 1970s. Coin dealers eventually contacted Mint officials about their suspicions that the pieces had been deliberately made. Officials conducted an investigation that uncovered the conspiracy.

No evidence suggests that the Proof 1975-S Roosevelt, No S dime was struck deliberately, and clearly similar coins were produced in quantity before and after 1975 and released through normal distribution channels via Mint sales of Proof sets. DeLorey’s theory that Mint officials had discovered that error dimes had been struck in 1975 and successfully prevented most from being released is supported by the knowledge that Mint officials have conducted other “search and destroy” missions for errors, some successful and others less so.

PCGS comments

“It isn’t very often that one gets to see a U.S. coin that has never appeared at auction. The 1975 no S dime is a legendary rarity and I congratulate Stack’s Bowers on bringing this incredibly important ultra rarity to auction” said David Hall, CEO of PCGS who has authenticated the coin and whose graders are in the process of grading this coin.

According to Stack’s Bowers Galleries, “The value of this treasure can only be guessed at. There are no market transactions of which we are aware. Among the related errors, a memorable auction price is $48,875 for a 1968 No S dime. ... Of that particular variety, the combined services have certified 23 coins. Although the 1975 No S [dime] has never been auctioned, we know that it is eleven and a half times rarer than the 1968-S [dime], in terms of auction appearances. Take the $48,875 and multiply it by eleven and the result is a valuation of over a half million dollars for the 1975! It also can be figured other ways.”

For further information about the auction of the coin, contact Christine Karstedt, firm vice president, at chrisk@stacksbowers.com,  or check the Stack’s Bowers Galleries website, found at www.stacksbowers.com.

An earlier version of this story suggesting that the dime consigned to Stack's Bowers Galleries was the first piece reported was based on incomplete information available at the time of publication.

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