US Coins

'Mule' actually novelty made from two coins

Readers Ask column from May 9, 2016, issue of Coin World:

I have this coin I want to sell to Tommy Bolack. Can you help me find him please?

Arsen Gold  /  Via email

For Coin World readers not familiar with the name Tommy Bolack, he is the error collector who has acquired 10 of the 14 confirmed known examples of the $1.25 State quarter dollar obverse/Sacagawea dollar reverse double-denomination mule error coins, for tens of thousands of dollars each.

There’s no need to contact Mr. Bolack. What the reader has is not a genuine example of the mule (struck at the Philadelphia Mint in 2000, but dateless), but a novelty piece fabricated from two separate coins. Several different companies make them for sale for a few dollars each.

One of the diagnostics for a piece being one of the novelties is the seam visible along the inside of the rim on the obverse; there’s no way to hide that seam. Another diagnostic is the surface finish on the obverse and reverse, which appears Proof or prooflike, while genuine coins are circulation strikes, exhibiting distinctive metal flow lines.

The novelty piece is made in part using the obverse of a quarter dollar bearing the reduced George Washington portrait introduced on State quarter dollars in 1999. The diameter is trimmed and the reverse machined away. The piece is then inserted into an opening that was machined out from a Sacagawea dollar; the dollar reverse is left intact. The piece is then plated to make the color uniform. 

The genuine mule errors were struck in the spring of 2000 at the Philadelphia Mint on coin presses dedicated to dollar coin production. A State quarter dollar obverse die was matched in the press with a dollar coin reverse die and a dollar coin planchet was struck. The mismatching of dies from the two different denominations was executed with at least three different die pairs.

Several hundreds of thousands of the mule errors were struck, but almost all were recovered by the Treasury Department from a Philadelphia armored car company contracted to secure the struck coins for distribution into general circulation.

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