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THE BIRTH OF A MAJOR MINT ERROR
By Ed Reiter
Mint errors are among the most interesting – and sometimes most valuable – of all U.S. coins. Their discovery often triggers nationwide treasure hunts as collectors and non-collectors alike search for similar “blooper” coins in their own pocket change.
For the U.S. Mint, these coins are a major headache – especially when the same kinds of errors turn up in quick succession. That’s just what happened in 1983 when, for the second year in a row, the same kind of glaring mistake occurred on small numbers of Roosevelt dimes for the second consecutive year.
The following article, written at that time, provides a kind of blow-by-blow account of how the Mint dealt with the situation.
Exasperated U.S. Mint officials are re-examining their quality control procedures following the discovery of yet another dime without a mint mark – this time in the 1983 proof set.
“It looks like we’ve got to do some more tightening,” said Francis “Barry” Frere, the bureau’s assistant director for marketing.
Frere said the Mint was seeking to determine how this latest error might have occurred, and why it wasn’t detected prior to issuance. In addition, he said, the bureau was “going back and making reviews” of proof dies still in use at the San Francisco Assay Office, and proof coins already struck but not yet shipped, to see if these contain any similar mistakes.
“We pride ourselves on our quality and workmanship,” Frere declared, “and this is a letdown; this is something that doesn’t reflect too favorably on our work.
“This has been the history of coinage,” he added. “There’s no way of eliminating errors. And people lose sight of the quantities that we deal with; when you stop to consider that, our record is awfully good. But we’re striving for 100 percent.”
The Mint spokesman emphasized that the bureau hadn’t yet examined any of the “no-mint-mark” 1983 proof dimes, and therefore hadn’t determined the nature and likely cause of this latest mint error. He added, however, that based on
reports from “reliable sources who have looked at them,” the coins appear to be “legit.”
Early reports indicate that only a small number of the ’83 proof sets distributed to date – perhaps no more than one or two hundred – contain the “S”-less dime. Those sets, it appears, were shipped during June – primarily to
customers who ordered either two sets or three, rather than the maximum of five.
Mint sources told error coin expert Alan Herbert that 6,000 would be “a good ballpark figure” for the dime’s potential mintage; that, they said, is the average life of a proof die. In this case, however, the figure could be as low as a couple of hundred, they said.
There’s no apparent way of fixing the number, they said, because it is believed that the die was destroyed prior to discovery of the error.
This latest error dime is doubly embarrassing for the Mint because it comes on the heels of an almost identical “boo-boo.” Early this year, sharp-eyed hobbyists began finding circulation-quality 1982 dimes without a mint mark.
It is generally believed that those were produced at the Philadelphia Mint and therefore should have had a “P” above the date.
Though struck by different mints, and by different production methods, the 1982 and ’83 error dimes both appear to have resulted from the same type of mistake – and in both cases, the mistake can be laid at the doorstep of the
Dies for all three mints are prepared in Philadelphia, and the mint mark for every die – whether P, D or S – is added with a punch at the main mint. In all likelihood, then, the dimes without mint marks were struck with dies to which the letters hadn’t been added.
Frere observed that with all the dies Mint technicians handle, it’s easy to understand how something like this could have been missed.
“But,” he said, “it should have been caught later in the process.”
Frere and other Mint officials were especially chagrined at the appearance of the latest error dimes because they had arranged for stepped-up inspections
following the discovery of the earlier ones.
“Maybe,” one official mused, “we’ll have to put an inspector on the inspector.”
Also, proof dies – unlike those for business-strike coins – are “100-percent inspected” before they leave Philadelphia, a Mint source reported, making the latest mistake even more dismaying.
While the Mint may have been dismayed, collectors and dealers were delighted at the prospect of another modern rarity.
Herbert said the “no-S” dime was sure to stimulate interest in error coins as a whole, especially when coupled with its 1982 counterpart. And all across the country, dealers and collectors were scrutinizing their proof sets to see if they were among the fortunate few.
The going price for a 1983 proof set with an “S-less” dime was $600 at the start; that was the figure being offered by a number of leading dealers. Very few sets appeared to be coming out, though, at that level, prompting one dealer to observe that this set seems to be even scarcer than the 1970 proof set with the “no-S” dime and the 1971 set with the “no-S” nickel.
Both of those earlier sets carry retail price tags of more than $1,000. In both cases, though, the Mint provided semi-official mintage figures for the error sets, based on a review of its production records. Those figures are 2,200 for the 1970 set and 1,655 for the ’71.
Frere said he would be willing to furnish a similar mintage estimate for the ’83 error set – but only if he “would feel comfortable” that the figure was reasonably accurate.
“Right at this point,” he said, “we can’t give an estimate. It’s too premature. We really don’t even know just what happened.”
As of July 5, the Mint was still accepting orders for ’83 proof sets. At that point, it had orders on hand for between 2.9 and 3 million sets, with production capacity projected at about 3.5 million.
Frere said the ordering period, which opened May 6, would continue until the production limit was reached.