by Jon Sullivan
Originally from sullivannumismatics.com
Mules are the king of U.S. mint errors. As an error type, mules are the rarest, with just 23 examples known (excluding patterns.) They are an error type that most error collectors never have the good fortune to own, and are almost unobtainable due to both their rarity and price. They are the “dream coin” for error collectors, and often make the headlines when they sale due to the high prices they fetch, which are usually between $50,000-$150,000. Recently, I had the opportunity to acquire the unique two-tailed Roosevelt dime, and wanted to share it.
What is a mule? A mule is a coin which is struck with mismatched dies, or said another way, it is struck with dies that were not intended to be used together. The dies can include the obverse, reverse, or even the collar die that produces the coin's edge design. The dies can be a combination of dies from two different coin denominations (e.g. 25c obverse with Sacagawea $1 reverse), or just an improper combination of dies for the same denomination of coin (e.g. 10c reverse with a 10c reverse.)
The two tailed Roosevelt dime is unique, and is one of the earliest known U.S. mule errors. It is made up of a combination of two Roosevelt dime reverses, with each side of the coin being a dime reverse. It has a reeded edge, as is expected on a dime, and is also struck on a normal clad dime planchet.
On one of the reverses, the coin appears to be SMS, with mirrored surfaces, and a slight “frosty” appearance to the design and lettering. However the other side of the coin is a business strike die, and is a late die state with cartwheel luster, and strong clashed dies of Roosevelt's head (which shows that at some point in that die's life, it was paired with an obverse dime die.)
The strike is weak on the outer area of the coin on both sides, which is likely due to the press not being able to sufficiently strike up the design due to the two reverse dies not being “designed” to be struck together, resulting in poor metal flow into the design of the die. Also, one of the dies is rotated 15 degrees, which may have been because the die couldn't fit properly into the press.
Written documentation has been found for the dime, which dates it back to at least 1973, although it is believed to have been struck in 1965 or 1966 due to the existence of (2) two-tailed Washington quarters, which are also believed to be from this era. Probably this two tailed dime and the 2 two-tailed quarters were made at the same time at the Mint, either intentionally or possibly unintentionally. We can never truly know “what happened” unless we know the person who made them or were “there when it happened.” A mint employee is quoted as saying (paraphrased) that the dies have lugs on them which prevent them from going into the wrong side of the press (meaning a reverse die could not fit into a obverse die's collar), and so the only way to have a two tailed dime would be for the lugs to have been intentionally ground off. He surmised that the coin was likely made intentionally by a Mint employee during a “midnight shift.”
There are a total of 23 U.S. mules known, excluding patterns. Interestingly, the most “common” of the mules, the Sacagawea/State Quarter coins, are typically the most valuable.
Below: A mention of the two-tailed dime mule is found in the last paragraph of this July, 1979 issue of “Lonesome” John Devine's error catalog. John says the coin is being photographed for ETCM. I'm not sure which issue of ETCM it appeared in, but presumably it did sometime in 1979.
Below: In this 2001 letter written by “Lonesome” John Devine to Fred Weinberg, he states that he purchased the coin in 1973, and also speculates about the coin's creation at the Mint.
Here is a list of known mules as well as the prices they brought if they were sold at auction:
1. $1 2000-P Sacagawea Reverse/State Quarter Obverse (16 Known)
Sold for various prices, but of late, approximately $100,000 is the average.
2. 25c (Believed 1965-1966) Washington Quarter Reverse/Washington Quarter Reverse (2 Known)
1 of the Known Examples sold for $41,975 August 14th, 2006, Heritage Auctions.
3. 10c (Believed 1965-1966) Roosevelt Dime Reverse/Roosevelt Dime Reverse (1 Known)
4. 5c 2000-P Jefferson Nickel Obverse/Jefferson Nickel Obverse (1 Known)
5. 1c 1999 Lincoln Cent/Roosevelt Dime Reverse and Struck on a Cent Planchet (1 Known)
Sold for $138,000 April 19th, 2006, Heritage Auctions.
6. 1c 1995 Lincoln Cent/Roosevelt Dime Reverse and Struck on a Dime Planchet (1 Known)
Sold for $57,500 January 7th, 2010, Heritage Auctions.
7. 1c 1993-D Lincoln Cent/Roosevelt Dime Reveres and Struck on a Cent Planchet (1 Known)
Sold for $51,750 January 7th, 2010, Heritage Auctions.
Although most of us cannot afford a mule for our personal collections, mules are aspirational, dream coins, which we all would like to own one day. However, don't feel like you cannot own a mule—foreign coin mules are much more affordable, typically selling for several hundred dollars, and making for a good “hole filler.” If you don't have a mule, go find one—it may not be one of the U.S. mules, but a foreign mule is nice as well.