US Coins

Dollar quarter mule error count climbs to 17

A 17th quarter dollar-dollar mule has been confirmed and consigned to Stack’s Bowers Galleries’ March auction at the Whitman Coins & Collectibles Baltimore Expo. The coin was struck in 2000 at the Philadelphia Mint from the obverse die of a State quarter dollar and reverse die of a Sacagawea dollar on a planchet for the dollar coin.

“The present offering ... represents a new discovery and a new opportunity for collectors to acquire this trophy,” according to Stack’s Bowers Galleries. 

“The newly offered example is gorgeous and exhibits golden tan surfaces with areas of richer honey color. The pristine surfaces are complemented by satiny, cartwheel luster and bold definition to the design elements. Die striations at the border are as seen on all known examples, creating a spectacular sunburst effect that is most dramatic on the obverse,” the firm adds.

The coin is graded Mint State 67 by Numismatic Guaranty Corp. and is from Die Pair 1 from three known sets of dies used.

When the first known example surfaced in a roll of dollar coins in May 2000, it represented the first confirmed “mule” among U.S. coinage — a coin struck from dies not intended to be used together. The quarter dollar-dollar mule lacks a date, since the date of a State quarter dollar appears on the reverse and not the obverse, but is known to have been struck in 2000.

Number grows

Since that first coin was discovered and confirmed as a genuine error, additional examples have surfaced, now totaling 17 pieces. Of the first 16 pieces confirmed, 12 are owned by a single collector — collector Tommy Bolack from Farmington, New Mexico., who has aggressively pursued ownership of the coins as new ones surface in the marketplace.

Since the first coin was authenticated, the collector community has speculated about whether the coins are true errors — produced by mistake — or the deliberate concoctions of Mint employees.

Despite the small number of coins confirmed, experts have identified three distinct die pairs, which indicates that the cause was not just a simple pairing of one obverse die and one reverse die. The new coin is from Die Pair #1.

The multiple die pairings do not necessarily mean that the coins were deliberately struck. In its press release, Stack’s Bowers cites Fred Weinberg, a dealer considered to be one of the leading experts in error coins in the country. According the Stack’s Bowers press release, Weinberg noted that “around 1998 or 1999, the Mint instituted an Occupational Safety and Health Administration rule requiring employees in specific roles be rotated into other positions on a periodic basis, adding to the potential for confusion in the Die Room.” Conceivably, unfamiliarity with Mint operating procedures could have contributed to the improper installation of three pairs of dies.

Dates of two sizes”Collectors’ Clearinghouse: What caused the doubled letters on Douglass quarter dollars? Also in this issue, Wendell Wolka finds more questions while answering another in his "Collecting Paper" column.

It is known that many thousands of coins were struck and many were shipped to the Federal Reserve before the error was discovered. As Coin World reported in May 2005, on the fifth anniversary of the coin’s discovery, “Following the discovery of the mule error, Mint officials began an investigation as to how the errors occurred, how many may have been produced and how many may have escaped the Mint into regular coinage distribution channels.

“An undisclosed number of the error coins were reportedly found in coin bins at the Philadelphia Mint. More were recovered from a coin-wrapping facility outside the Mint.”

As for the coins entering the marketplace, a government investigation showed that some entered the marketplace through legitimate circulation channels, presumably because they were placed into circulation before the majority of the coins were recovered. Other examples, however, are identified as having left the Philadelphia Mint illegally.

The government investigation eventually led to the filing of charges against two Philadelphia Mint employees, including a press operator, accused of converting government property by selling them to collectors and dealers for their own profits. The men were not charged with striking the coins; they apparently smuggled examples of the coins out of the Mint to sell. The two men were eventually convicted of the criminal charges.

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Although several specific examples of the coins known in the marketplace are known to have left the Mint illegally through the efforts of the former Mint employees, the government has not pursued confiscation.

Christine Karstedt, executive vice president of Stack’s Bowers Galleries, told Coin World on Feb. 13 that she did not have information about the discovery of the 17th coin at that time.

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