The Sacagawea Mule Error

One of the greatest – or most infamous, depending on how you look at it – errors in numismatic history involves the 2000 Sacagawea coin.

If you’re not familiar with the term “mule”, a mule error is the production of two different coin designs on one coin. Prior to 2000, no U.S. coins had a mule error, but the Sacagawea coin broke that streak.

The coin was accidentally printed with the obverse design of a U.S. State quarter along with a Sacagawea reverse of an eagle.

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After discovering the error, the Mint found thousands of coins with the same error at the Philadelphia Mint. These coins were melted to avoid any problems.

The question also arose whether the mule error coin could be legally owned. After all, if a coin is a partial quarter and a partial dollar, what denomination is it really?

Debates erupted on how this could have happened, and the Mint reported that it was due to the same size die of the State Quarter and Sacagawea dollar.

A Sacagawea dollar obverse.

A Sacagawea dollar obverse.

As it turns out, the mule error was produced three different times. Rogue employees probably were to blame for the printings. Two employees were also caught selling the coins for profit. The former employees received fines and jail time.

While the Mint destroyed most of the mule error coins, ten known coins still exist. One estimate says that a single Sacagawea Mule would bring in as high as $250,000 at auction.

The Design of Morgan Silver Dollars

From 1878 to 1904, and also in 1921, the United States minted the Morgan dollar.

The Seated Liberty dollar had come before, but the Coinage Act of 1873 got rid of the coin, and the Liberty was not missed. The U.S. government instead moved to reenact the standard silver dollar.

The Bland-Allison Act was passed, which required the U.S. Treasury to buy a certain amount of silver and put it into circulation.

The obverse of an 1879 Morgan Dollar.

The obverse of an 1879 Morgan Dollar. Find your own Morgan Dollar here!

The act led to the creation of the Morgan dollar, so named for the coin’s designer, George Morgan, who agreed to work at the Philadelphia Mint for six months or more to draft a coin design. Morgan worked under the Chief Engraver William Barber.

Anna Willess Williams in 1922.

Anna Willess Williams in 1922.

Morgan was determined to represent an American woman instead of the typical Greek woman’s profile on the coin. Eventually Morgan found Anna Willess WIlliams, whose profile Morgan claimed to be the most perfect he’d seen in England or America. She modeled for Morgan five times on the condition that her identity would be kept secret, but she soon let her identity slip, citing her modeling as an “incident of my youth.”

A stereoscopic view of the Philadelphia Mint coining press.

A stereoscopic view of the Philadelphia Mint coining press.

The Director of the Mint preferred Morgan’s designs over those of the Chief Engraver, and the coins with Morgan’s designs were first produced in 1878.

The last Morgan coins were produced in 1921.

The Coin Immersed in Legend: The 1913 V Nickel

The 1913 V Nickel is one of the rarest coins in the world.

We’ve written about the top five most expensive coins in the world. But other coins that didn’t make the list deserve recognition too.

One such coin is the 1913 V Nickel, which some have referred to as the “Mona Lisa” of coins.

It’s a beautiful coin, to be sure. But what makes it so valuable is not just the fact that only five are known to exist. It also has a rich, mysterious history.

Let’s start at the beginning. The Liberty Head Nickel was minted from 1883 to 1913. The nickel had a large V on the back, leading to its nickname of the “V Nickel.”

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Somehow, the Mint forgot to place the word “cents” on the nickel, and some took advantage of the misprint as well as the newness of the coin, using it as a $5 gold piece. The cleverest among them bought an item below five cents, paid with the gold-plated nickel, and waited to see whether they got change for 5 cents or 5 dollars. No one could convict the scammers because no one could say they claimed that the nickel was $5!

That whole debacle fueled the public’s interest in the coin, although the Mint added the word “cents” halfway through the coin’s run. Even from its beginning, this nickel had hype built in.1913-v-liberty-head-nickel

Only five of these (albeit the ones with “cents” on the obverse) have a 1913 strike. They were made before the production of the Indian Head design, and some suggest that a Philadelphia Mint employee made the 1913 coins right before the Indian Head coins began to be produced, even though the Liberty Heads were supposed to stop production in 1912.

One particular 1913 V Nickel surpasses all the others in legend. King Farouk of Egypt once owned this coin, along with his favored coin collection and other fine items.

Not quite a king, but the owner of the Los Angeles Lakers basketball team, Dr. Jerry Buss, also owned the coin at one point.

The person most to blame for the fame of this nickel is B. Max Mehl, a Texas millionaire who created an advertising campaign during the Depression that offered a huge monetary prize for any of the V Nickels.

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The coin’s obverse side.

This led to a frenzy of treasure hunters as well as the rise in popularity of the coin. While none of the coins reached Mehl, he did greatly increase sales of his coin-collecting book. What a marketing ploy.

One of the five Liberty Head nickels known to exist was thought to be lost in a 1962 car accident that killed a coin dealer. But years later, the American Numismatic Association offered a million-dollar reward for the fifth nickel. The family of the coin dealer killed in the accident brought a nickel that they had previously been told was fake: to their shock, six members of the American Numismatic Association confirmed that it was the genuine article.

The ANA was able to show all five of the 1913 Liberty Head coins at their Baltimore convention as a result.

One of the coins sold for $3.1 million in auction in 2013.

Owned by famous names, fought for by coin collectors, and sold for millions of dollars: the “Mona Lisa” of coins has really made an impact.

Sources:

A good long history of the coin

More history