US Coins

Both known Proof 1975 No S dimes surface

Both known examples of the Proof 1975-S Roosevelt, No S dime have now surfaced, after being hidden from public view for more than three decades since the modern rarities were first discovered.

An Ohio collector who read the June 20 Coin World’s coverage about the consignment of one of the two known examples of the dime to the August American Numismatic Association convention auction by Stack’s Bowers Galleries brought his family’s set to Coin World’s offices as well as documentation supporting their purchase of the set more than three decades ago. The middle-aged man and his octogenarian mother visited Coin World’s offices twice in June, first to share the documentation with staff and to talk about the set, and a second time with the set, which had been safely stored in a lock box.

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The family has owned the set for more than 30 years and plans to keep it for decades more.

A June 27 examination of the dime in the set, and in comparison with photographs taken in 1977 and with the images on a 1983 ANACS certificate, confirms that the dime is the same piece Coin World staff — including this author — examined in 1977. The dime has a visible, unique marker not seen in the photographs of the other example. The Ohio coin was struck through a thread or hair on the reverse that left a shallow depression in the coin extending from the field to the right of the top of the torch into the bottom of the flames. The squiggly struck-through area is visible both on the dime and in the Coin World photograph from 1977.

In addition, the dime shows a patch of roughness on the torch visible on the coin, on the 1977 Coin World photograph and on a 1983 ANACS photo certificate. No such roughness is visible on the coin consigned to Stack’s Bowers Galleries.

ANACS, when it was the ANA Certification Service, authenticated the dime as a Proof in the fall of 1977 after getting permission from the owner to open the set for closer visual examination. The ANACS authentication occurred a few months after Coin World staff saw the piece and informed the owner that they could not identify the piece as a Proof, in part because the coin was housed within the Mint packaging, which restricted visual inspection. The Coin World staff noted several imperfections on the coin that are unusual though not impossible on Proof coinage.

Coin World reported on the ANACS authentication of the dime in its Feb. 22, 1978, issue. The same Page One article also noted, “One other coin like this has been reported but not verified.” ANACS authenticated the second coin a few months later, which was then reported in the July 5, 1978, issue of Coin World.

The first coin authenticated bears ANACS photo certificate serial No. E-6781-A. The second coin authenticated bears certificate serial number E-3674-B. The suffix letter B indicates that the coin in the upcoming Stack’s Bowers Galleries was authenticated after the coin with the serial number ending in “A.”

About the same time as Coin World reported that the first dime had been authenticated, it entered the marketplace. Within a few weeks of the February publication, the coin was sold to a collector who, by coincidence, lived less than an hour’s drive away from Coin World’s Sidney, Ohio, offices.

For the Ohio collector, an early mail delivery in early 1978, plus his proximity to the dealer offering the Proof set with the coin, gave him an edge over other potential customers for the coin.

Fred J. Vollmer, then a Bloomington, Ill., dealer, acquired the set with the No S dime from the original owner during the first quarter of 1978. Vollmer, in his 1970s advertising appearing in Coin World, was known for offering the 1968, 1970 and 1971 Proof sets with No S error coins. Vollmer, now retired, told Coin World in late June that the seller contacted him after seeing his advertisements for those earlier sets. He said that he conducted the transaction through the mail and never met the seller.

After acquiring the set, Vollmer mailed a letter to clients (apparently a dozen or so individuals) who had purchased from him the earlier Proof sets with error No S coins, clients including to the Ohio collector. The Ohio man told Coin World that he had purchased an example of the 1968-S Proof set with the 1968-S Roosevelt, No S dime from Vollmer in 1976.

The proximity of Vollmer’s business to the Ohio collector’s location probably meant the Ohioan received his letter sooner than most of the other customers. More importantly, a fortuitous early mail delivery that day enabled the Ohio collector (who has asked for anonymity) to buy the set.

He told Coin World in June that his postal carrier delivered mail the day he received Vollmer’s letter (in early March 1978) about an hour earlier than normal. Upon opening and reading the letter, the Ohio collector telephoned Vollmer within two or three minutes to say that he wanted to purchase the set. According to the Ohio collector, Vollmer later told him that a second individual wanting the set called him less than 10 minutes later. The Ohio collector indicated that, had his mail been delivered at the normal time that day, he probably would not have been able to purchase the set.

Buying on an installment plan

Vollmer and the Ohio collector and his family agreed on a price. According to the March 10, 1978, invoice from Vollmer, which the collector shared with Coin World, the purchase price was $18,200. The collector purchased the coin on a two-year installment plan, paying Vollmer $3,800 as a down payment. Vollmer added $800 to the purchase price as a service fee for the installment plan. The collector paid Vollmer $633.33 monthly, with a final payment of $833.41. The Ohio collector and his family did not take possession of the set with the dime until 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, in completion of the transaction.

Before that conclusion of the transaction, however, Vollmer offered the Ohio collector the second set that had been authenticated as Proof by ANACS. This time, however, the asking price was much higher than the $18,200 Vollmer asked for the first set. And, apparently reported here for the first time, the person who sold Vollmer the first set also sold the dealer the second set.

Two sets, one finder

Vollmer told Coin World in June that the same California individual found both sets in a box of five acquired from the Mint and sold both to him, though on separate occasions. Vollmer did not recall the name of the seller, although that information is included in Coin World’s files from July 1977. The individual, who sent Coin World the set in 1977, requested anonymity at that time, which was granted and is still being honored.

While the Ohio collector who bought the first set was aware that the same person had found both sets, that information does not appear to have been previously published.

In a letter dated Feb. 20, 1979, Vollmer wrote to the Ohio collector with the offer of the second set.

“I have enclosed a letter from the customer that we purchased your 1975 NO S PROOF SET [from],” Vollmer wrote in the 1979 letter. “This letter is offering the SECOND KNOWN SET that we found out about, just after we purchased the first set. Little did I know this same person owned the other set. As you know I have spent much time trying to locate the second set, and have NEVER been offered or roomered [sic] of another set until this letter came to me. I have had three 1975 [Uncirculated] mint sets sent to me for the NO S PROOF SET.”

Vollmer continued in the 1979 letter: “We are offering this [second set] to customers that we held a list of when we offered this [first] set last year. However in this offering it will be sold on a first come basis. I think that you can read between the lines that we really had to reach to buy this set, and was not near the nice deal of the first. Our price is $38,550/00 with 10% down, balance on April 1st 1979. We can set it up also on a two year LAY-A-WAY with only 5% added to sale price, 20% down.”

Vollmer noted that customers might think him “MAD” for asking $38,550 for the second set, but he pointed out in the letter that no other sets had surfaced, and, “Remember we are also in a wild coin market with super prices being made weekly, and the dollars are buying less.”

In his letter to the Ohio collector, Vollmer said that if the Ohioan would also purchase the second set, Vollmer would work with him if he ever decided to sell both sets, charging him a percentage of the sale price. Vollmer concluded the letter with a prediction that a six-figure set would be “at this point well within reach.”

The Ohio collector called Vollmer about the second set but found that it had already been sold. In any case, he was reluctant to purchase the second set because of the higher price. Another buyer had purchased the second set, on an installment plan. When the Ohio collector picked up his set in 1980, Vollmer showed him the other set, which he still held for its purchaser. According to the Ohio collector, Vollmer believed that the first dime was of higher quality than the second. (Professional Coin Grading Service recently graded that second coin, offered in the upcoming Stack’s Bowers auction, as Proof 68.)

Erroneous assumption

When the first two news accounts about the sets were published in Coin World in February and July 1978, Coin World staff did not know that the same collector had found both sets. Coin World did report in the July 5, 1978, issue that both sets had been found in California, according to ANACS staff and Coin World’s records for the first set. ANACS also maintained the anonymity of the finder of the second set, despite the close working relationship between ANACS and Collectors’ Clearinghouse staff at the time.

ANACS’s chief authenticator in 1978 was Edward Fleischmann, who had been editor of Coin World's Collectors’ Clearinghouse department in the early 1970s. Fleischmann left Coin World for ANACS in 1976 and was replaced in the Coin World position by his assistant, Thomas K. DeLorey. (DeLorey’s elevation to editorship of the Clearinghouse column opened a position on the staff for the current writer, which was filled in October 1976.)

DeLorey said June 30: “To the best of my recollection Ed never said anything about who owned the second piece. I am fairly certain that I just assumed it was from another party, but I have no recollection of making that assumption. It is just that if I had known that the same party had ‘found’ both pieces, that is the kind of thing I would have remembered.”

Because Coin World was unaware that the same person had found both sets, an incorrect conclusion was presented in our coverage in the June 20 issue: that the coin consigned to Stack’s Bowers Galleries was from the set sent to Coin World for examination in 1977. When Stack’s Bowers Galleries first contacted Coin World about the consignment of the dime, a spokeswoman for the firm gave Coin World the name of the original owner. Since that name matched the name in Coin World records from 1977, the logical, though erroneous, assumption was made that the coin to be auctioned was the one reported in 1977.

Coin World has since attempted to locate and contact the original owner of the sets. A message was left on a telephone answering machine at a number linked to a person that Internet searches tie to the name and address given in the 1977 correspondence in files. As of June 30, no one at that number had returned Coin World’s call.

Why so rare?

While none of the Proof sets with error No S coins is common (estimated mintages for the 1968, 1970, 1971, 1983 and 1990 sets all range in the few thousands), the 1975 Proof set with the No S dime is by far the rarest. Just two sets have ever been authenticated, and until the two sets surfaced recently, they had not been seen in the marketplace for decades. That both sets were found by the same person, reportedly in a purchase from the Mint, could be considered remarkable. In consideration of that single finder’s address and the historical record, some additional questions are raised.

The 1977 home of the original finder was in a community a short distance south of San Francisco, location of the San Francisco Assay Office, source of the set (which has since gained Mint status). That proximity could easily be mere coincidence, of course.

However, it is also a matter of historical record that during the early to mid-1970s, a group of San Francisco Assay Office employees clandestinely struck Proof “error” coins. These coins were of the striking and planchet error categories, most of them so deformed that they would never have fit into the hard plastic case used for Proof sets in the late 1960s and 1970s. The Proof errors that were clandestinely struck were not of the die variety category (under which the No S dime is classified).

The illicit error coins were smuggled out of the facility in the oil pans of forklifts, into which they had been dropped through the oil filler spout. When the forklifts were sent outside the Mint facility for servicing, confederates of the assay office employees retrieved the “error” coins, which, after the oil coating them was removed with gasoline, were then sold into the marketplace.

Coin dealers became suspicious of the types and quantities of Proof error coins entering the marketplace. Eventually, some collectors who knew how the coins were smuggled out of the Mint let the secret out. Several reputable coin dealers then contacted Bureau of the Mint officials. The ensuing investigation uncovered the conspiracy, and officials shut down the clandestine minting operation. The supply of Proof errors from the facility dried up about 1976 and 1977, according to error specialists active in the 1970s.

It is entirely possible, maybe even likely, that the Proof 1975-S Roosevelt, No S dimes were made legitimately. After all, similar die varieties had already been made in 1968, 1970 and 1971, and would again be made in 1983 and 1990, all of which were released through regular Mint channels to collectors who ordered sets from the Mint, and the No S coins were unlike the error coins being made clandestinely.

However, the rarity of the 1975 sets could possibly be attributed to the investigation into the clandestine operations at the San Francisco Assay Office. If the sets had been made in larger quantities but, under the increased scrutiny, were discovered by Mint officials, it is possible that most of the sets were caught before they could be released.

The rarity of the Proof 1975 set with the No S dime makes it the key of the small series of Proof error coins lacking the Mint mark. Neither of the two coins has ever been offered at auction, and the transactions have been few. When the coin consigned to Stack’s Bowers Galleries is offered at auction in Rosemont, Ill., in August during the ANA convention auction, the sale will be the first time either of the sets has been offered in decades.

The Ohio collector has kept his family’s ownership a closely held secret for decades. He noted, however, that at the ANA convention in Cincinnati in 1980, he was standing talking with a prominent dealer when a third party stepped up to join them in the conversation. The third party then asked whether they thought the 1975 Proof set with the No S dime would be on exhibit at the convention. The Ohio owner of the set chose not to reveal his ownership.

As for the Ohio collector’s set, he told Coin World June 28 that the family’s set would not be made available in the marketplace for decades, which would seem to ensure that the coin consigned to the August Stack’s Bowers Galleries auction might be the only piece available to collectors for a long time to come. 

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