US Coins

Two-headed 5-cent coin raises eyebrows in hobby

The marketing of a currently unique two-headed 2000-P Jefferson 5-cent coin struck with two obverse dies is generating a buzz in numismatic circles.

Lengthy discussions have been posted on the U.S. Coins Forum of the Collectors Universe Message Boards.

Mike Byers from Mike Byers Inc., in Las Vegas, Nev., currently owns the coin and is offering it with a price tag of $100,000.

The SS Central America wreckage just keeps on givingSS Central America reveals thousands of new findings, celebrating the ‘house organ’: Another column in the June 19 Coin World details what a ‘house organ’ is, and expounds on some intriguing half dollar varieties.

Byers purchased the error coin for an undisclosed sum from error coin dealer Fred Weinberg of Fred Weinberg & Co., from Encino, Calif., after it failed to sell in Heritage Auctions’ Platinum Night session Jan. 5, 2017, associated with the Florida United Numismatists Convention sale in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

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The two-headed 5-cent coin is graded Mint State 65 by Professional Coin Grading Service. Weinberg said he had the piece certified in late 2016 in anticipation of the auction. Weinberg said he acquired the piece from one of his sources in 2001 and had held the piece since then.

While the two-headed error is the only known example of a Jefferson 5-cent coin struck with two obverse dies, other examples of U.S. coins struck with two of the same dies are known: two undated examples were struck with two Washington quarter dollar reverse dies, and one Roosevelt dime was struck with two reverse dies. A single example of an 1859 Indian Head cent struck at the Philadelphia Mint with two obverse dies is also known.

All of them would be classified as mule pieces, since two dies were paired in each case that were not intended to be paired together.

It is uncertain how many of these pieces are “errors” in the traditional sense of the word — coins produced accidentally that deviate from the norm because of some mishap in the minting process. Whenever a truly unusual coin of this nature surfaces, speculation invariably rises about whether the coin was produced deliberately by a Mint worker. Regardless of whether such pieces are accidental or deliberate creations, they are widely considered “errors” and are deemed collectible by many.

How was it produced?

U.S. Mint officials declined June 6 to provide any details on what type of coin presses were in use at the Philadelphia Mint when the two-headed 5-cent coin was produced, nor how the error could have been executed, intentional or otherwise.

The Heritage Auctions lot description from the FUN sale describes the error as having been struck with two Jefferson 5-cent coin obverses “rotated approximately 225 degrees from coin turn. Both sides are weakly struck, but exhibit a readable date and Mint mark, and a partial outline of the Jefferson bust. Although unstruck areas retain the dimpled texture of the planchet surface, post-strike contact is confined to the rim near IN G on one side, and the rim near BERT on the other side.”

(“Coin turn” means a struck coin’s obverse is 180 degrees from the struck reverse; when rotated on its vertical axis, if the obverse is right side up, its reverse will be upside down. In “medal turn,” when a piece is rotated on its vertical axis, both obverse and reverse will be right side up.)

Weinberg said the only way to differentiate which die was positioned as a hammer die and which was positioned in the reverse position as an anvil die would be if the end result were also a partial collar error.

As described in the Coin World Almanac, for a partial collar error, often known as a “railroad rim” error, “the edge, not the rim, is the portion of the coin affected. It occurs when the collar [edge die] is pushed somewhat below the surface of the lower die, so that one portion of the coin is free to expand beyond the confines of the collar, while the other portion is restrained. On coins struck from a reeded collar, partial reeding exists on the area restrained by the collar. The error gets the nickname railroad rim from its appearance — the coin, viewed edge-on, resembles the wheel of a railroad car.”

Any weakness in details evidenced with either obverse die strike “is probably because the dies were not set up properly, like for a normal run of nickels,” according to Weinberg. “Either the die pressure wasn’t up to par — usually about 65–70 tons of pressure, I believe — or the dies were somewhat horizontally mis-aligned.”

Mike Diamond, error coin specialist and author of the “Collectors’ Clearinghouse” column appearing in the weekly editions of Coin World, upon request provided his assessment of the two-headed 5-cent coin:

“The coin is weakly struck, which means that determining authenticity is always going to be a problem since any tool marks or imperfections one associates with counterfeit dies are unlikely to show up. A weak strike is one way that counterfeiters hide the evidence of their mischief.

“If the coin is genuine, then it’s almost certainly an intentional error.

“Since the obverse die was employed as both the hammer and the anvil die in this time period, it’s quite possible that an obverse die machined to operate as the anvil die was paired with an obverse die machined to operate as the hammer die. It’s also possible that two obverse dies originally machined to operate as the anvil die were used. Striking a two-headed coin with two hammer dies is the most difficult arrangement because the neck of the hammer die is shorter than the anvil die. This would make it difficult for the lower die to bring the planchet within range of the upper die. The anvil die’s longer neck allows it to move up and down within the collar. However, I see no way to securely determine which position these two dies were originally intended to serve in.” 

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