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The Biggest Mint Error Ever: The Sacagawea Dollar/Washington Quarter Mule

March 12, 2018 0 Comments

Perfection is a common goal when collecting coins – perfect finish, perfect example, but ironically it’s the mistakes that bring in the big money. Collectors love error coins – mistakes at the Mint that result in something unique. There are many different types of error that can and sometimes do occur when making coins. The planchets or blanks – strips of metal that the coins are punched from, can be damaged or faulty, creating errors. The dies that punch the coins can be damaged, or not punch a complete coin. The stamping process itself can go wrong, leading to over-stamping, or other errors.

Perhaps most interesting of all is the production of ‘mules’. Just as a mule is the result of breeding a horse with a donkey – two animals that aren’t supposed to go together – so a mule coin has one side belonging to one coin, and the other to a different coin. These are highly sought after by error collectors.

At the Baltimore Spring Expo this month, on March 22, Stack’s Bowers, the major rare coin auctioneers, will be offering an example of the rarest mule from the US Mint. This is a coin called Sacagawea Dollar/Washington Quarter Mule. The coin on sale is the 17th example found of this extraordinary coin, and the sale is sure to create a lot of interest. A price around $100,000 is predicted, but with an auction, pretty much anything can happen.

The Sacagawea Dollar/Washington Quarter Mule has the obverse of a Washington quarter, but the reverse of the new Sacagawea dollar. The reverse shows a soaring eagle, which is the standard reverse of this dollar coin. It does not show the engraving of Sacagawea, which would also include the date, so the coin is not dated at all. The Washington quarter obverse is a profile bust of George Washington, from the State quarter series. The first example of this coin was found in Mountain Home, Arkansas by Frank Wallis, and sold at auction in 2000 for just under $30,000. Since then, 15 more have been discovered and certified, with the most expensive going for $155,250 in August 2012.

So what exactly happened here, and how did this coin come about? There are numerous rumors and stories circulating, but the most likely is perhaps the least interesting – a simple error. An employee new in the die room was asked to hand an operator a new die, since the existing one had cracked. He picked up the wrong one, and its protective case preventing that being noticed. Only when the bins began to fill up was the error seen. The mint attempted to destroy all the coins by emptying the bins, but they missed one, and so several mules escaped and were wrapped in rolls along with other Sacagawea dollars. They then found there way mostly into vending machines, and some were spotted by sharp-eyed members of the public.

As of May 2017, 12 of the coins were in the hands of a single collector, Tommy Bolack of New Mexico. If the coin on auction sells for a high price, he might see his investment soar in value.

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