US Coins

Error coin becomes 11th most expensive dime on record

This Proof 1975-S Roosevelt, No S dime, one of two pieces known, realized $349,600 during Stack’s Bowers Galleries’ Aug. 18 Rarities Night auction in Rosemont, Ill., placing it in the 11th spot for prices among all dimes.

Original images courtesy of Stack's Bowers Gallery

A Proof 1975-S Roosevelt dime, distinguished from the other 2.8 million examples of the coin only by its lack of an S Mint mark, realized $349,600 during Stack’s Bowers Galleries’ Aug. 18 Rarities Night auction in Rosemont, Ill.

The price paid for the Professional Coin Grading Service Proof 68 1975-S Roosevelt, No S dime, one of just two examples known, is remarkable on several levels.

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The $349,600 is the 11th highest price realized at auction for a dime of any design or date. The Proof 1975 dime’s price is exceeded in the denomination only by auction realizations for examples of two classic rarities, the 1894-S Barber dime (10 known) and the unique 1873-CC Seated Liberty, No Arrows dime, and by single transactions for two rare die varieties of 1797 and 1804 Draped Bust dimes. Furthermore, based on auction price records published in the Eighth Edition of the Coin World Almanac, the price realized for the 1975 dime is the highest brought at auction for any U.S. coin struck since the second half of the 20th century, with only a few coins struck from 1901 to 1950 exceeding it in value at auction, including a 1944-S Lincoln cent struck on a zinc-coated steel planchet ($373,750) and several examples of the 1913 Liberty Head 5-cent coin (highest price at $3,737,500).

According to Stack’s Bowers Galleries, with just two pieces known, the Proof 1975-S Roosevelt, No S dime is one of the rarest U.S. coins struck since the production of the sole known example of 1873-CC Seated Liberty, No Arrows dime. Stack’s Bowers cites only the unique 1776-1976 Eisenhower, Bicentennial dollar struck on a silver-copper clad planchet as being rarer than the 1975 dime.

Although the Proof 1975-S Roosevelt, No S dime has been known since 1977, neither example of the coin had ever been exhibited publicly or offered at public auction until the piece sold in the Stack’s Bowers Galleries auction was consigned and auctioned.

Initial surfacing

The original owner of both 1975-S Proof sets containing the No S dime sent one of the sets to Coin World’s Collectors’ Clearinghouse in July 1977 for evaluation, without mentioning that two such sets were in her possession. The Clearinghouse staff, consisting of the department’s editor, Thomas K. DeLorey, and this author, could not verify that the coin was a full Proof. Instead, a letter dated July 29, 1977, was sent to the owner suggesting 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 original owner, a California collector who requested anonymity from Coin World, in the fall of 1977 sent the same set viewed by Coin World to the American Numismatic Association Certification Service, which authenticated the dime as a Proof strike. ANACS announced the authentication in January 1978, prompting Coin World to publish its first news article about the coin in its Feb. 22, 1978, issue. The same article reported that a second example had been reported but not verified. ANACS authenticated the second example a few months later, which was reported in the July 5, 1978, issue of Coin World. (At the time, ANACS had not revealed that the same person owned both sets, nor was Coin World aware of this fact; that information was a closely held secret known only to a few people until June 2011.)

As is typical when a significant new variety is reported, collectors and dealers began searching their 1975-S Proof sets for the dime variety after the first news reports. However, no other examples have been rumored or verified since the discoveries of the two sets.

Sets enter the marketplace

The original owner of the sets sold both in separate transactions to Fred J. Vollmer, then a Bloomington, Ill., dealer. Vollmer, now retired, told Coin World in late June 2011 that the seller contacted him after seeing his advertisements for earlier, similar Proof sets containing error No S coins. Vollmer said in 2011 that he conducted the transactions through the mail and never met the seller.

After acquiring the first set in February 1978, Vollmer sent a letter to a dozen or so customers who had purchased similar Proof sets from him — sets containing a Proof 1968-S Roosevelt, No S dime, Proof 1970-S Roosevelt, No S dime or a Proof 1971-S Jefferson, No S 5-cent coin. One of the customers was an Ohio collector who, upon receiving and reading the letter, immediately called Vollmer and ordered the set. Vollmer later told the man that he had beat the second caller to inquire about the set by about 10 minutes.

The Ohio collector purchased the set on an installment plan, paying the dealer a total of $18,200 in monthly installments after a down payment of $3,800. After the final payment was made in 1980, the collector and his family drove from their Ohio location to Vollmer’s shop in Illinois to pick up the set, completing the transaction.

The now middle-aged Ohio collector and his mother still own the set. They had not revealed their ownership of the set until Coin World published a news article about the consignment of the other piece to the Stack’s Bowers Galleries auction. By happenstance, the owners live a short drive away from the Sidney, Ohio, offices of Coin World; they brought the set, their invoice for the purchase, a letter from the original owner to Vollmer and other documentation to Coin World’s offices in June for verification of their claims of ownership. Diagnostics of the dime visible in photographs taken by Coin World in July 1977 prove that the Ohio family’s coin is the same piece examined by staff, including this writer, more than three decades ago.

Vollmer acquired the second 1975-S Proof set from the original owner in 1979 and in 1980 again offered it to select customers, including the Ohio man who bought the first set. The Ohio collector declined to buy the set, which was priced at $38,550. In a letter to the Ohio customer, Vollmer said he had increased his asking price for the second set because by then it was clear that it was much scarcer than the other similar Proof sets (whose certified populations range from 24 to 234, although the mintages for two of the coins are higher, at 1,655 and 2,200).

The second set instead went to the consignor for the Stack’s Bowers Galleries auction. The owner of this set had also maintained anonymity, although his name is visible on the photograph of his invoice published in the Stack’s Bowers Galleries Rarities Night auction catalog. He revealed himself to Coin World a few weeks before the Aug. 18 auction.

What makes the dime special?

What sets this coin apart from the millions of other 1975 Roosevelt dimes and the majority of 2,845,450 Proof 1975-S dimes? The finish and lack of a Mint mark set the two Proof 1975-S Roosevelt, No S dimes apart from the millions of otherwise similar pieces.

The San Francisco Assay Office produced 71,991,900 circulation-quality 1975 Roosevelt dimes that are identical in appearance to the 513,682,000 1975 dimes struck for circulation at the Philadelphia Mint. None of the coins bear a Mint mark and therefore cannot be identified by Mint of origin. All of the Proof 1975-S Roosevelt dimes should have had an S Mint mark.

Until the mid-1980s, the Philadelphia Mint made all dies used at all Mint facilities. Dies bearing the appropriate Mint mark, if any, would be shipped from the Philadelphia Mint to the intended facility. For dies intended for the striking of Proof coins at the San Francisco Assay Office, the dies would be given additional treatment to impart a Proof finish to the coins. This additional processing was mostly likely done at the San Francisco Assay Office rather than at the Philadelphia Mint, based on longstanding Bureau of Mint procedures.

In 1975, the San Francisco Assay Office was used to strike both circulating and Proof coinages. All of the Proof coins were to have the S Mint mark, while by 1975 all of the circulating coins struck at the San Francisco facility were sans Mint mark, making them indistinguishable from the same coins struck at the Philadelphia Mint.

However, one of the many dime obverse dies lacking a Mint mark was processed for Proof production and used to strike Proof dimes. As noted earlier, similar mishaps had occurred prior to 1975, and in addition would occur again in 1983 and 1990.

The two Proof 1975-S Roosevelt, No S dimes bear a Proof finish like the regular Proof 1975-S dimes, but like the circulating dimes of the same date struck at the Philadelphia and San Francisco facilities, lack a Mint mark. All Mint markless 1975 Roosevelt dimes found in circulation are normal circulation strikes.

Since just two examples of the Proof 1975-S Roosevelt, No S dime have been authenticated, researchers believe that Mint inspectors discovered the mistake and prevented most of the sets with the error dime from being released.

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