William T. Gibbs, senior editor, news, joined the Coin World editorial staff in 1976 and serves as chief copy editor for all Coin World publications while directing weekly editorial production aspects. The collector of numismatic items relating to Adm. George Dewey of Spanish-American War fame has served as lead copy editor for all Coin World books since 1985 and is principal author of the cover topic for Coin World's Guide to U.S. Coins, Prices & Value Trends.
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Last week, I previewed an attractive, desirable error coin offered in a recent Heritage auction — a mated pair of 1973-S Washington quarter dollars. I noted that while most error collectors would love to own the coin, some concerns had to be noted.
In the 1970s, Proof coins were struck on planchets that were individually hand fed into the press. After each coin was examined by the press operator, it was then delivered to the packaging facilities to be inserted into the hard plastic cases used for Proof sets in the 1970s. Error coin experts state that it would have been impossible for (1) a coin of this type to have been struck by accident and (2) to have left the San Francisco facility legitimately. By all evidence, these pieces fall into the categories of intentional and assisted error.
So what happened?
It is well known within the error coin community that during the 1970s, employees of the San Francisco facility were deliberately producing error coins using Proof dies, and then selling them into the collector marketplace. Many of the coins were grossly misshapen, like the mated pair described here. Some were struck on unusual planchets or scrap. They were well publicized in the numismatic community.
Eventually, Mint investigators working on a tip from the error coin community discovered that the intentional errors were secreted within the oil pans of fork lifts used at the San Francisco facility. When the fork lifts were shipped to an outside firm for service, a confederate removed them from the oil pans and cleaned them with a degreasing agent. From there, the coins entered the marketplace.
Mint officials shut down the unofficial minting. However, some of the Proof coin errors produced during this time remain in the marketplace, generally unmolested by authorities.
The mated pair of quarter dollars in the Heritage auction brought a winning price of $4,553.13.
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Coin World contributing writer Mike Diamond addressed the concepts of “assisted error” and “intentional error” in his May 12, 2014, “Collectors’ Clearinghouse” column, where he defines the two categories of coins. In short, intentional and assisted errors are given “help” by mint employees. These employees are the spiritual descendants of the 19th century U.S. Mint employees who unofficially produced 1804 dollars, patterns and other rarities for sale to favored collectors and dealers. Such practices continued well into the 20th century, as a lot in a recent auction suggests.
Heritage Auctions’ April 23 to 27 Central States Numismatic Society sale offered a small number of visually appealing, desirable errors. Among them was lot 5200, a mated pair of 1973-S Washington quarter dollars. The Glossary of the Combined Organizations of Numismatic Errors of America defines “mated pair” thusly: “These coins were struck together in the coining chamber. They fit together perfectly.”
Most error collectors would love to own the pair of quarter dollars in the Heritage auction. They are visually striking and would be the centerpiece of anyone’s error collection. However, a thin cloud shades this pair of coins — a shroud no commercial dip can remove. Look at the date and Mint mark. The two coins are Proofs, bearing the S Mint mark of the San Francisco Assay Office, and they are all wrong for this kind of error.
We look at what makes this piece somewhat questionable next week.
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