The 1875 Dot Reverse Indian Head Cent: Did It Catch a U.S. Mint Crook?

By Joshua McMorrow-Hernandez for PCGS ……
 

What’s up with the unusual raised dot on the reverse of some 1875 Indian Head cents? That’s the question many coin collectors have asked for decades. The little raised dot in question appears near the top left corner of the “N” in the word “ONE” on the reverse of the coin. This peculiar raised dot is visible on 1875 cents grading Fine or higher that were struck from one particular die, and it was essentially unnoticed until recent years and only after the publication of an article by numismatic expert R.W. Julian in the May 1972 issue of Numismatic Scrapbook.

As Julian’s 1972 article and Richard Snow’s Flying Eagle & Indian Cent Attribution Guide, 3rd Edition, Volume 1 describe, a 76-year-old employee of the United States Mint in Philadelphia was suspected of stealing new coins right from inside the press room. The septuagenarian mint employee, George Mitchell, had been working for the United States Mint for more than 50 years and had served in the position of “helper”. According to internal Mint letters, some of the facility’s top brass, including Coiner Archibald Loudon Snowden, believed Mitchell’s actions were due more to progressing mental difficulties than any nefarious motivations to steal.

“Of late [Mitchell] has manifested in many ways the weakness of his mint, and I think it is but charity to say that his grave fault can be attributed to mental decay and weakness, more than to any other cause,” writes Snowden in mint correspondence dated August 24, 1875. “His feeblemindedness has manifested itself in a marked manner since his recent detection in peculations. At one moment, he appears in the very depths of despair and humiliation – denouncing himself for the crime that has disgraced himself and his family – and the very next speaks of himself as a “poor victim of uncharitable people.”

Snowden further instructed Coining Room Foreman A.W. Downing to modify a single reverse die slightly and that the die is used only on a single press that Mitchell was told to stay by and oversee after he arrived at work early one morning. Later that morning, it was discovered that Mitchell had pocketed 33 freshly minted one-cent coins bearing the reverse modification struck from his press. He had been caught!

Embarrassed by the discovery of the stolen coins on his person, Mitchell confessed to his misdeeds and resigned. However, what remained a mystery for so long was what type of modification had been made to the reverse of the single 1875 cent reverse die that was used to snag Mitchell in the act of his thievery. Some light was finally shed on the mystery of the unspecified reverse modification with the reported discovery of a peculiar raised dot on the “N” of the word “ONE” on some 1875 Indian Head Cents.

The coin, discovered by Tom Culhane, received much publicity by iconic numismatic author Q. David Bowers in 2008. And while there is no definitive proof that 1875 Indian Head cents bearing the raised dot on the reverse actually are the coins tracing back to Snowden’s and Downing’s intentional die alteration, numismatic experts are generally comfortable in attributing the coins to the Mitchell incident.

No mintage records are known to state exactly how many of these 1875 Dot Reverse Indian cents, classified as “Snow-16” or “S16”, were struck. However, very few specimens have been accounted for and may presently number only a few dozen pieces. PCGS has graded several circulated and uncirculated specimens, with the finest PCGS-graded example receiving a grade of MS65+RD. Sales information is also spotty on this rare, scarcely traded but sought-after variety. Among the coin’s notable auction appearances in recent years is the sale of a PCGS MS64RB specimen that took $2,585 in a March 2015 Stack’s Bowers auction and a PCGS MS64+RD that realized $4,080 at another Stack’s Bowers sale in March 2018.
 

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