A curious anomaly in coins struck
at the Denver Mint has set off a frenzy among collectors and
could be a bonanza for those lucky enough to find them.
The irregular quarters were first discovered by an Arizona
retiree who collects coins and inspects scores of them with a
"It's like finding a needle in the haystack; it's like hitting
the lottery," said Bob Ford, 72, who is credited with the find.
Ford routinely goes to a bank in Tucson and buys rolls of coins,
which he takes home and inspects. On Dec. 11, Ford was going
through a roll of 2004 Wisconsin quarters when his routine took
a strange turn.
"All of a sudden, I see this funny thing," Ford recalled. "I
thought, 'My God! That is a strange-looking error."'
Ford spotted an extra leaf on a cornstalk. As he excitedly
re-examined other quarters, Ford discovered more than 100
unusual coins and a second abnormality. In some coins, the extra
leaf is turned up; other coins have the extra leaf turned down.
A three-coin set - the regular Wisconsin quarter and the two
"error coins" - can fetch about $1,100, according to collectors,
dealers and websites.
They also have coin aficionados trying to solve the mystery of
how the mistake happened.
"We may never know what the true cause of the die gouge is,"
said Fred Weinberg of Encino, Calif., a longtime coin dealer and
collector who co- authored the book "The Error Coin
One theory is that the die was deliberately changed by a worker
who hoped to benefit by selling the coins.
Weinberg discounts the theory as highly improbable.
"Security is very, very strong" at the U.S. Mints in Denver and
elsewhere, Weinberg said. "I think an employee would have a hard
time walking out with one coin, much less 10."
After the coins are stamped, they are shipped under heavy guard
from the Mint to contractors who put them into paper or plastic
rolls before sending them to banks. There is little, if any,
chance that an employee at the Mint would know where to catch up
with the imperfect coins, Weinberg said.
He said it's more likely the culprit is a bored or disgruntled
A Denver Mint spokesman referred questions to the U.S. Mint
Office of Public Affairs in Washington, D.C., which issued a
press release: "The United States Mint is looking into the
matter to determine possible causes in the manufacturing
In total, 453,200,000 Wisconsin quarters were minted over a
10-week period, said Michael White of the public affairs office.
About half were minted in Denver, noted by a "D" on the front of
the coin, and the other half in Philadelphia. No bad
Philadelphia coins have turned up.
"It is unknown how many of these specific quarters may have been
produced," he said.
But before you empty your piggy bank or go digging beneath sofa
cushions, know that the number is extremely limited so far and
contained to Tucson and San Antonio.
"It has absolutely been going crazy," said Bret Palser, co-owner
of Eagle Eye Rare Coins in Tucson. "It was like a mini-gold rush
- people were running to banks looking for these."
Palser estimates that about 2,000 leaf-up and 3,000 leaf-down
quarters have been discovered in Tucson. Fewer than 50 such
coins have turned up in San Antonio.
Klaus Degler, manager of Rocky Mountain Coin Inc. in south
Denver, said his business has been getting calls about the
quarters, but he said he wasn't aware of any having turned up
"Who knows if they will find any," he said. "It depends on how
many are out there."
Before Ford knew the value of what he discovered, he sold a pair
of irregular quarters for $3.75 to a New Jersey man on eBay, he
Now, he's planning to attend a coin collectors convention this
month in Long Beach, Calif., to show an encapsulated
"discoverer" signed set and to judge the market.
Ford and his partners, including his son, Gary, have more than
100 sets stashed away.
Gary Ford said that "130 million people are collecting state
"If you don't have one of these sets, you don't have a complete