Collection of double denomination mule errors expands
- Published: May 12, 2017, 8 AM
When a coin’s population totals just 16 pieces, owning a single example is a notable achievement. Owning 12 of the 16 pieces, however, is achievement on a completely other level.
New Mexico collector Tommy Bolack now owns an even dozen of the double-denomination mule errors struck in 2000 at the Philadelphia Mint featuring a George Washington obverse from the State quarter dollar series and the Soaring Eagle reverse from the Sacagawea dollar. Just other four examples of the coin can be found in the holdings of others.
Bolack told Coin World May 7 that he paid $85,000 to acquire an example graded Mint State 66 by Professional Coin Grading Service. He purchased the coin from Fred Weinberg at Fred Weinberg and Co. in Encino, Calif., on May 4. The coin is a previously unreported example, according to a census Weinberg maintains.
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The new coin is identified as being struck by Die Pair 1. Three different obverse and reverse die marriages have been identified for the known examples.
Weinberg said he secured the 16th example several weeks ago through another dealer. The provenance of this new example of the double-denomination error was not disclosed.
Bolack has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars acquiring the error coins. The highest publicly known price for any of his mule errors is the $117,500 he paid to acquire a Numismatic Guaranty Corp. Mint State 67 example from Die Pair 1 from Stack’s Bowers Galleries’ Aug. 6, 2014, auction.
Bolack said he has made overtures to acquire the examples he doesn’t own when he’s been able to identify and contact the current owners. He told Coin World in 2014 after he had purchased his 10th example, “After I bought the first one, I never thought I’d ever own a second one, much less 10. I’ve kind of fallen in love with them.”
What is the coin?
A mule error is a coin or medal struck with dies not intended to be used together. In the case of this double-denomination mule error, an obverse die from a State quarter dollar was set into a coinage press at the Philadelphia Mint in 2000 and mated with a reverse die from the Sacagawea dollar, in essence creating a $1.25 coin. The coin was struck on a manganese-brass clad dollar planchet on a press dedicated to Sacagawea dollar production.
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The error coin appears without the date of issue because the date for Sacagawea dollars appears on the obverse of the coin. On State quarter dollars, while the Mint mark appears in the right field on the obverse, the date for the State quarter dollars appears on the reverse of normal coins.
The first example of the double-denomination mule error was reported to the numismatic community in May 2000 by Frank Wallis of Mountain View, Ark., who found an example in a 25-coin roll of Uncirculated circulation-quality Sacagawea dollars from First National Bank & Trust.
The coin was the first confirmed design mule struck a U.S. Mint facility, though other examples have since been confirmed, some struck before the quarter dollar/dollar mule.
Among those other pieces is the only known double-denomination 1999 mule error of a Philadelphia Mint Lincoln cent obverse and Roosevelt dime reverse struck on a copper-plated zinc cent planchet. Bolack bought that mule in 2006, paying $138,000 for the error.
Thousands were struck
The 16 quarter dollar/dollar mules identified in collections are a tiny fraction of what was actually produced at the Philadelphia Mint in 2000.
U.S. Mint officials determined the mules were struck sometime in late April or early May 2000. Coin World sources in 2000 indicated that the Mint may have produced as many as three bins of the coins, although the sources could not tell Coin World what size bins were involved. If the larger of two different bins were involved, the number of mules struck could have totaled several hundred thousand.
Several bins, one that may have contained tens of thousands of the mule errors struck by one press, as well as the bins from two other adjoining coining presses, were impounded and the coins ordered destroyed.
Production of the mules led to an intensive investigation by Treasury and Mint authorities. The investigation led authorities to a Federal Reserve-contracted coin terminal and wrapping facility located near the Philadelphia Mint, and authorities advised officials there to be on the lookout for any of the mule errors. An undisclosed number of mules were found at the facility, though the total is believed to have been in the hundreds of thousands. The coins were returned to the Mint for destruction.
While the government investigation found that the errors were produced by mistake and not deliberately, two former Philadelphia Mint coin press operators were prosecuted on charges of selling, but not stealing, up to five of the mules, and converting the profits to their own use.
The two former Mint press operators served time and had to pay stiff fines.
Federal officials indicated they were able to determine which examples may have possibly exited the Philadelphia Mint illegally, but no action was ever taken to seek forfeiture of any of the pieces.
In the March 10, 2005, sentencing memorandum submitted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Anita Eve for a former Philadelphia Mint coinage press operator charged in connection to the sale of some of the coins, the following language was included: “As the court is aware, the error coins remain property of the United States government. The United States Mint is in a position to reclaim their property from the coin collectors who have purchased the coins stolen from the Mint by the defendant, but has no current intentions to seek the coins. Instead, the Mint seeks to punish the defendant and to deter theft by current and future Mint employees and other government employees.”
Population slowly growing
The population of extant examples has slowly grown over the years as new pieces have entered the marketplace, with Bolack doggedly attempting to acquire as many pieces as he can.
A roster of the first 15 examples known and the price (where disclosed), along with grading service and grade, can be found at Weinberg’s website, www.fredweinberg.co, under the Error News tab.
All 16 known examples of the error have been graded and encapsulated by PCGS or Numismatic Guaranty Corp.
Diagnostics for the three known die pairs are as follows:
??Die Pair 1: The reverse for Die Pair 1 exhibits a die crack in the F in OF in UNITED STATES OF AMERICA that is absent from the reverses from Die Pairs 2 and 3. The obverse exhibits numerous radial striations attributable to stresses involved during striking, resulting from the slight differences in size between the two dies.
??Die Pair 2: Die Pair 2 exhibits a perfect obverse die, but a reverse that shows three noticeable die cracks: one each projecting from the rightmost points of the stars above the E of ONE and D of DOLLAR and a third, curved die crack running along the wing directly above these two letters.
??Die Pair 3: For Die Pair 3, the obverse has been described as “fresh and frosty.” The obverse of the Die Pair 3 coins shows just a hint of the radial lines found on the discovery example. A small die gouge appears in front of Washington’s lips. The reverse appears perfect and exhibits no die cracks.
In addition to the genuine mules, collectors should be aware that altered coins resembling the mules are also in the market.
The pieces are made by several novelty companies and produced by machining out the obverse of a genuine Sacagawea dollar, and then inserting and gluing in a machined-down State quarter dollar with its Washington obverse facing out.
The altered piece is then plated over to simulate the color of the Sacagawea dollar.
Look for a seam where the field meets the rim. The altered piece’s weight will be off from the 8.1 grams of a genuine Sacagawea dollar, and the altered piece will produce a thud instead of a distinct ring when tapped, a result of its method of assemblage.
On occasion, Coin World receives inquiries from collectors who have found one of the replicas and wonder whether it is genuine.
A handful of collectors had something to say about Bolack’s latest purchase (the comments have been lightly edited for clarity).
firstname.lastname@example.org — I’m just glad Tommy Bolack’s focus is on rare mule $1 coins and not the type of error currency I’ve been focused on since 2002, as I couldn’t compete with him.
From Coin World’s Facebook Page:
John Lane: If he does acquire the rest of the known examples, he’s probably going to pay close to half a million or more (each) to get them. He’ll be stuck with them too because nobody else is going drop that kind of cash to get one.
Terry Sewell: I like [Bolack’s] style. I have about 70ish identical wooden nickels from an old local political race. I still buy them up when I can.
Roman Wach: And all it takes to corner the market is money. Imagine that.
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