An ultra-rare, U.S. Mint-error coin, expected to sell for thousands of dollars at a national coin convention in August, is in Santa Ana this week to be analyzed for quality and sealed for preservation.
The "mule" coin, with a Washington quarter "head" and a Sacajawea dollar "tail," was found in May by an Arkansas man who had purchased four $25 rolls of Sacajawea dollars, hoping to make a small profit by selling the uncirculated coins for $2 apiece.
Two more of the mule coins have been found in recent weeks, according to a report in Coin World magazine. One of them is available on EBay until Friday, with bids in excess of $25,000.
The coins are believed to be the result of an unprecedented mistake in the Philadelphia Mint's 208-year history. Mint officials have issued a statement acknowledging the error but will not comment on how it might have happened, citing a continuing investigation.
Mint officials say 29 billion coins are scheduled for production this year, including more than a billion dollar coins, and more mis-struck coins may have been circulated.
The discovery has caused a stir with dealers.
"There have been other mint errors. I have a friend who has an 11-cent penny"--a penny stamped with a dime dye--"but with this new coin, it's not the case, it's a mule coin," said Michelle Striley, owner of a rare-coin store in Buena Park. "In modern times, it's one of the more expensive coins. There are coins that are worth more, like the 1913 nickel, of which only five exist."
Striley said she has gone through her rolls of the Sacajawea dollars, "but the odds of finding [a mule error] are pretty slim."
With the coins minted in Philadelphia, they're unlikely to be found in the Southland, said Rick Montgomery, president of Professional Coin Grading Service in Santa Ana. Montgomery graded the mule coin this week and rated it Mint State-66 on a scale of 0 to 70.
"In California, we get primarily Denver-minted coins, so it will be hard for those looking locally to find one," he said.
Initially, the coin was expected to sell in the $100,000 range. But more Sacajawea mis-strikes could drive the price down. (And the spelling of the legendary Indian girl's name is something of a coin toss.)
"It would seem that the coin is still going to bring a handsome sum," Montgomery said. "It will depend on the fever pitch of the bidders, [but] any more news will also affect the price."