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Tails-Tails Makes a Winner of Unique Quarter's Finder

July 19, 2001|KARIMA A. HAYNES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

For years it was tucked away in a safe deposit box, but soon a rare two-tailed coin will be in the national spotlight.

The 1965 Washington quarter-dollar struck from two reverse dies has been authenticated by one of the nation's top coin certification services, which estimated its value at between $75,00 and $100,000.

The coin's owner, an Encino-based collector and dealer, will display the unusual quarter for the first time next month at the American Numismatic Assn. convention in Atlanta, which draws coin enthusiasts from around the world.

"The coin is unique," said David J. Camire, mint error specialist for Numismatic Guaranty Corp. of America, which evaluated the coin at its laboratories in Parsipanny, N.J.

"It is the only known two-tailed quarter," Camire added. "It is an amazing coin to view. You keep wanting to flip it over and over."

Fred Weinberg, 51, of Encino, a professional coin collector and a leading expert in mint errors for 30 years, discovered the one-of-a-kind coin among a lot of 350 coins he purchased in May from the California controller's office at an auction of unclaimed property from bank safe-deposit boxes.

"I knew that the box contained error coins, but I wasn't sure of the exact contents," said Weinberg, who would reveal only that he and partners Gold 'n Coins and Jewelry of La Habra spent "several thousand dollars" to acquire the coins.

As the collectors began the process of sorting the coins by denomination and type of error, Weinberg said, the prize was among those at the bottom of the box.

"I saw the quarter and it looked normal," Weinberg recalled. But when he picked it up and flipped it over, "I said, 'That's strange. That's a tail and . . . that's another tail.' "

Initially, Weinberg said, he thought the two-tailed quarter was a "magician's coin" or the handiwork of a machinist with a sense of humor.

But then he weighed it, dropped it on a desk and listened for a hollow sound, and then peered at it through a magnifying glass and under a microscope. "I felt very confident that it was authentic."

But it's always good to get a second opinion, he said.

So, Weinberg loaded the find into a Brinks truck bound for Numismatic Guaranty Corp. of America headquarters in New Jersey, where it was examined by Camire and David W. Lange, the company's director of numismatic education.

The coin was determined to be a genuine die-struck coin circa 1965 based on the study of designs of hardened steel in relief used in making coins from that era.

Although the quarter does not have a mint mark, Camire said the coin mostly likely was minted in San Francisco along with the other coins included in the safe-deposit box collection that carried an "S" mint designation.

Weinberg said the double-reverse most likely was a result of mint personnel taking shortcuts in a time of coin shortage.

"Around 1964 and 1965, there was a lot of pressure to produce coins," Weinberg said. "The economy was down and the mints were working overtime. That's probably how this coin came into existence."

The odds of a two-tail coin being minted today are about one in 27 billion, said Matt Kilbourne, a U.S. Mint spokesman.

"Having not seen the coin, it is difficult to comment on its authenticity," he said. "But of the coins we have seen, they have all turned out to be an altered coin."

Still, it is possible for the U.S. Mint to make a mistake, Kilbourne said, although it's highly unusual.

"We measure our errors in parts per billion," he said. "We minted 27.4 billion coins last year, 24 billion the year before that and 19 billion the year before that. When you do the math, you begin to see how rare an error coin is."

That's precisely what makes the two-tailed quarter a collector's dream, said Beth Deisher, editor of Coin World magazine, a trade publication based in Sidney, Ohio.

"It's a spectacular find," she said. "So far as we are aware this is a unique coin. The collecting world had thought it impossible, but this one has been authenticated."

Deisher said she is intrigued by the many unanswered questions the coin raises: Was it an error intentionally made at the mint? Who owned the coin? Who placed it in a safe-deposit box? Was the owner associated with the San Francisco Mint? Was the owner a known collector?

"It would be interesting to trace the coin's origins," she said.

Weinberg expects that the public will be less interested in the coin's history and more interested in how they can cash in on a two-headed or two-tailed coin.

"I am anticipating that everyone who has a fake two-headed coin is going to think they are genuine," he said. "Tens of thousands have been made and accidentally put into circulation. People should not get their hopes up that they have a real one. They are truly one of a kind."

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