US Coins

Controversial 1959-D cent 'mule' heads to auction

A coin that shouldn’t exist — a 1959-D Lincoln cent with the Wheat reverse that was retired in 1958 rather than the Lincoln Memorial reverse introduced in 1959 — will be offered at Ira and Larry Goldberg’s June 2 Pre-Long Beach Auction in California.

It is graded Mint State 60+ brown by the auctioneer, who writes, “For some reason, the few independent grading services who have examined this coin can't seem to decide on its genuine status, [and] although no one can define any reason to consider it counterfeit, they also won't render an opinion to support the coin as a genuine mint product.”

Both Professional Coin Grading Service and Numismatic Guaranty Corp. have given a “No Decision” grade on the mule.

The oddity was discovered in 1986 by Leon Baller, a retired police officer. When he sent the coin for authentication by the U.S. Treasury in 1987, he received a letter signed by Richard M. McDrew, special agent for the Department of the Treasury, stating, “Enclosed is your United States 1¢ coin, dated 1959-D, with wheat reverse. This coin was microscopically examined by our Forensic Services Division in Washington, D.C. and it is their opinion the coin is genuine.”

Fifteen years later its new owner sent it to the United States Secret Service Office of Investigations Counterfeit Division, who found in 2002 that the coin did not exhibit alterations to the date. The examiner located no seams on the edge that would indicate it was two halves pieced together, found that the composition was consistent with cents of the period, saw no characteristics associated with counterfeit coins such as tool and file marks, and observed the die polish was similar to genuine 1959 cents. The report concluded that it was a genuine mule cent.

Coin World columnist and ANACS grader Michael Fahey examined the coin when it was submitted to the American Numismatic Association Certification Service for authentication in 1993 and he too found no evidence of it being counterfeit, but returned the coin with “No Decision” because there was no evidence that the U.S. Mint produced it.

Some who have looked at it note the unusually heavy die polish as being inconsistent with cents of the era and hope that the discovery of regular issue Lincoln cents struck from the 1958-D reverse and 1959-D obverse dies could help confirm its authenticity.

The Goldbergs write, “It is very unlikely that new dies were used just to coin this one specimen, and the dies were very likely normal production dies which happened to be available when the new reverse was being adapted by the mints,” providing a calculation that perhaps as many as 2,000 Lincoln cent obverse dies were used in Denver in 1959.

The Goldbergs conclude, “While controversial, this coin seems to be turning the tide in its favor with the Treasury Report, and with a little research, could soon be die linked to other existing 1958-D and 1959-D cents, which will likely lay the controversy to bed, and the coin can finally be accepted by the grading services and other experts in the Lincoln cent series.”

It is estimated at $50,000 and up. It was last offered at a February 2003 Goldbergs auction where it realized $48,300.

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