Mints and Marks: Little Things Can Mean a Lot
By JED STEVENSON
The United States Mint
has inadvertently struck a new collector's item:
an unknown number of 1989 quarters with no mint
Such oddities are often sold for thousands of
times their face value; some numismatic dealers
are already estimating that the coin is worth
several hundred dollars.
All of the 604,900,000 quarters already minted
this year should have a mark just to the right
of the ribbon on George Washington's pigtail
that tells where the coin was minted. A ''P''
indicates the mint at Philadelphia and a ''D''
the Denver mint. Quarters minted in Philadelphia
before 1980 do not have a mint mark.
The first quarter minus the mint mark was
discovered in Boston by a coin collector and
sent to Numismatic News, a weekly publication
for coin collectors based in Iola, Wis. The
publication's editors lent the quarter, on which
the second 9 in the 1989 date was partly erased,
to the United States Mint for analysis.
Eugene H. Essner, the deputy director of the
Mint, confirmed that the quarter was genuine. If
the coin had been tampered with to remove the
mark, a microscopic inspection would show signs
of metal deformation, he said.
A spokesman for Stack's, a New York coin dealer,
said that, based on the prices of other coins
with similar errors, the 1989 quarter may be
worth $250 to $1,000. The value is based on the
number of coins without a mint mark; the Mint
has no idea of that number.
Normally, a coin is punched from a metal blank
by two opposing dies that impress the coin's
design on both sides. In an effort to discover
how the error might have occurred, the Mint has
duplicated the quarter by injecting oil into the
die that strikes the front. The incompressible
oil prevents metal, which melts under the high
pressure, from filling the mint-mark recess of
the die. The Mint also duplicated the coin by
reducing the striking pressure.
While errors in minting are sufficiently common
for there to be a branch of numismatics devoted
to the resulting coins, it is rare for the error
to involve something as easily visible as the
mint mark and rare that such a mark be fully
removed. The last such error with a mint mark
came on some 1982 dimes. Those dimes are now
worth about $140 apiece.
The Mint does not know if the faulty quarter was
minted in Philadelphia or Denver. A Second
Robert E. Wilhite, editor of Numismatic News,
said the publication had received just one other
quarter without the mint mark although a roll of
such quarters was reported by a Westchester
County, N.Y., storekeeper. The storekeeper,
however, neither produced the coins nor
contacted Numismatic News again.
Q. David Bowers, chairman of Bowers and Merena,
a New Hampshire coin auction firm, said if
several dozen of the coins were found, each
''could be worth several hundred dollars.''
Anyone who does find such a quarter has a
difficult decision. To sell immediately might be
wise, since the price of the first few coins
will be high. To wait might also be wise, for
the ultimate number of the pieces may be small,
making each coin much more valuable.