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.