- The United States Mint accidentally produced a coin that married a Lincoln cent obverse with a Roosevelt dime reverse; this type of error is known as a “mule”.
- Multi-denominational errors are rare and have sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars in recent years.
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By Charles Morgan for CoinWeek …..
Close inspection of the coin’s design will reveal why this Lincoln cent is so unusual.
Struck at the Denver Mint in 2001, this Gem Uncirculated Lincoln cent error has the familiar portrait of President Abraham Lincoln on the obverse. But instead of striking the coin with the expected Lincoln Memorial reverse, the coiner mistakenly mounted a Roosevelt dime reverse die into the press. As a result, this error coin is a mule of two designs that were not supposed to be struck together.
Was This 2001-D Lincoln Cent Error Intentionally Struck?
Without direct evidence, it is impossible to know whether such spectacular Mint errors are intentionally or accidentally struck, or whether they are smuggled out or unintentionally released. Over the years, several curious errors have escaped the Mint, including modern Proof coins struck over obsolete coins, coins with missing edge inscriptions, and “coins” struck on everyday objects, like the undated dime struck on a nail. Nevertheless, the circumstances by which these curiosities were produced has not deterred collectors from seeking them out.
This 2001-D Lincoln cent mule falls in the category of Mint errors that conceivably could have been produced by mistake and released unnoticed into circulation.
Properly struck, the Lincoln cent has a diameter of 19.0 mm, while a Roosevelt dime is smaller, measuring 17.9 mm. This slight difference in diameter means that the dies used to produce these coins are similar in size, and a distracted press operator might not have noticed that they were mounting a dime reverse die to strike Lincoln cents. A similar mistake occurred with the famous Washington quarter / Sacagawea dollar mule, of which there are more than two dozen known examples (all, or nearly all, were found in bags or rolls placed into circulation).
The example offered by Heritage Auctions is the fourth 2001-D Lincoln cent / Roosevelt dime mule. Heritage Auctions also sold the other three:
The Washington Quarter / Sacagawea Dollar mules routinely sell for over $100,000.
The obverses of the PCGS MS66RD example sold on June 17 and the coin presently offered are similar. Both exhibit weakness at the top of the motto IN GOD WE TRUST, which is most apparent in the latter letters.
Were it not for a few distinct differences that are plainly visible in the high-resolution photography published by PCGS, one might think that these two pieces were struck at about the same time from the same pair of mismatched dies. The image informs me that this may not be the case. Look at the diagonal raised “accent” extending from the bottom of the I on PLURIBUS on the example offered in the current sale.
This unintended feature could have been imparted on the surface of the die after it came into contact with a sharp object of some sort. This detail is not present on the other three known pieces and is not referenced in the Heritage auction lot description. A close examination of the MS65RD that sold on August 24, 2022 reveals a similar raised area, but on that example, the diagonal raised area extends from the bottom of the torch. The cataloger for the present coin mentions the existence of tiny gas bubbles under the surface of the August 2022 example.
These features might prove to be important pick-up points for specialists should additional pieces come to market.
Lincoln Cent Mules Are Spectacularly Rare
Even though at least four 2001-D Lincoln cent mules are confirmed, Mint errors of this type are spectacularly rare. Heritage Auctions describes three additional mules of a similar character in its lot description. By order of emission, they are: a 1993-D Lincoln cent struck with a dime reverse; a 1995 Lincoln cent struck with a dime reverse; and a 1999 Lincoln cent struck with a dime reverse. And that’s it. After 114 years of continuous coinage, it is interesting to note that these errors seem isolated to eight years and that Mint workers produced the mules while producing business strike coinage.
Could additional examples of this Mint error exist? The likely answer is yes. With four known examples in the wild, it stands to reason that at least a few more might have escaped the Mint – especially in the event of an unintentional release. The best way to search for additional examples is by checking original rolls or bags of uncirculated 2001-D Lincoln cents. While an obvious long shot, these sources will be more likely to yield error coins than will searching through pennies that’ve been in circulation for over 20 years.
While substantial, the potential value of a circulated example of a mule of this date will be considerably less than the prices already realized for the examples already sold. I’d expect a circulated example in XF40 Brown or worse to sell for no more than $20,000, should one turn up.
Given the technical difficulties involved in striking high-quality coins with mismatched dies, I also doubt that examples in MS66RD or better condition will ever turn up. That makes this offering quite the opportunity for the advanced Mint error collector.
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