My Errors, Congressional Errors, and Mint Errors

I never thought I’d be drawing a line in the sand at Radio Shack.

“Why must I fill out anything? I’m buying the digital telephone with cash,” I said through clenched teeth. “It shouldn’t matter that I’m prepaying for phone time.”

“I don’t care how you pay. If you don’t fill out the form I can’t sell you the phone. It’s a rule,” Asst. Mgr. Ned responded, not realizing we were hurtling toward a Constitutional confrontation.

“OK, I’ll give my name and address but I refuse to fill in ‘Occupation’ on Line 2.”

“No ‘Occupation,’ no phone,” said Ned.

Ned was one of these “virtual” young people I seem to encounter all over these days and I trust he will worry a bit when he reads how I answered, ‘Occupation’ on Line 2 : ‘Luddite Assassin, Specializing in Low-end, High-techers.'”

All of which started me thinking about “Occupations.” I formerly held the belief that what one did for a living told everything about him like the old quiz show, “What’s My Line?” Once the guest’s occupation was finally revealed, there was little else we needed to know.

I’m not so sure about that now. After all, one’s occupation is not ordained, but includes luck (good or bad), ambition (often misguided), compromise (selling-out?) and, most significantly, decisions made by others.

To demonstrate how unpredictable the career path can be, I submit this brief biographical note. In 1951, I was a 22-year-old determined to avoid the draft and the certain death that followed in Korea. There was nothing ideological about it. It was fear and cowardice, pure and simple.

Draft day closed in and it was like awaiting the executioner’s call. Finally, fate intervened. The Air Force, suffering a severe shortage of pilots, cut their enlistment term from four to two years to attract aspiring Aviation Cadets who were reluctant to enlist for four years, fearing they might wash out of flight training. The two year deal was terrific and I was first in line the next morning at the Air Force Recruiting Office.

I breezed through the rigid Flight Training medical exams (it was amazing how much my general state of health had improved since the Draft Board physical exam I took weeks earlier) and I began to think career.


The gorgeous blonde asks, “What business are you in?”

“I’m an Air Force Jet Pilot,” I modestly admit.

Years later, now grey at the temples:

The gorgeous blond asks, “What business are you in?”

“I’m a commercial Airline Captain,” I modestly admit.

Not bad as “occupations” go, especially to a 22-year-old.

Unfortunately, the Air Force decided that my flight training would be as a Navigator/Bombardier. That didn’t offer much promise for the future, as one could hardly go through life listing “Bombardier” as an “Occupation.” Although Ned at Radio Shack might have been impressed.

Pay no attention to “occupations.” If you want to know the “real person,” check out what he or she does at leisure. A friend, Doc Arnold, makes his living as a gynecologist and his waiting room is always filled to capacity. A few years ago his wife, concerned that he was becoming too involved with his work, pressured him to take up some hobby. She had no idea what her advice would lead to.

It may be hard to believe, but friend Arnold actually reads insurance policies for recreation and exchanges Christmas cards with the US Bureau of Weights and Measures. It goes without saying that he is the dullest fellow in the county, unless you need help deciphering the clouded language of your Blue Cross Health Plan.

I must confess that I, too, have a hidden interest, which approaches addiction. And causes great concern to family members. They bring my meals on trays as I sit glued to the TV watching tapes of Congressional hearings on C-SPAN. Don’t mock. Once you get to know the actors and capture the rhythm of the dialogue you realize you’re witnessing high drama.

It hardly matters the topic: the pollution of streams in New Mexico, or the funding of the FBI, the panels are always the same; boring testimony, prepared by boring lawyers, read by boring people. Fortunately, most of the transcripts and prepared testimony never again see the light of day. Only Congressional staff members are forced to take the material seriously.

I’ll admit that getting anything out of watching these bozos is like learning to enjoy caviar. It’s sort of an acquired taste. But, should you ever forget how pompous, arrogant, and dangerous government could be, tune in to some Congressional hearings and “watch them make sausage.”

Which brings us to that exciting time of the year when the “Making Sausage Congressional Awards” are about due. 2002 has produced some memorable events and here is a peek at some of the award highlights:

Best voting record for an indicted Congressman — Rep. James Traficant, D-OH

Worst voting record for a non-indicted Senator — Sen. Robert Torricelli, D-NJ

Lifetime Achievement Award — Sen. Strom Thurmond, R-SC

Sen. Thurman nicely symbolizes the disintegration of the Republic over the past four decades.

The Democrat and Republican Congressional Leadership announced the striking of a gold medal honoring Rep. Ron Paul, R-TX. The medallion is inscribed as follows:

“We Deeply Respect You, But Hope You Soon Return to the Practice of Medicine.”

And, finally, the “Making Sausage Award For the Best Congressional Hearing of 2002.”

This award goes to the Congressional proceeding which best portrays the waste, arrogance, and ineptitude of a government program.

The winner is — the US Senate Appropriation Committee’s Treasury Subcommittee Hearing on the Sacagawea Dollar.

LRC and readers know a great deal about the “disastrous Golden Dollar.”

The Subcommittee hearing took place on Friday, May 17, 2002. The critical matter at hand was the Sacagawea Dollar. Why was it not circulating? What could be done to increase demand, and the BIG question: Should the program be continued with additional funding?

There was no debate, little disagreement, and few accusations with just a wee bit of blame placed on the Fed. The room reeked of bipartisan embarrassment.

Here are some highlights from the hearings:

Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND), Chairman, very much in favor of the Sacagawea because the Shoshone Indian was from his home state, made some telling observations:

“I never received a Sacagawea coin in change.”

“My contention is this is a failure.”

“We must determine what must be done to turn the situation around.”

“The banks haven’t seen much demand for them,” one expert said. “Retailers and businesses say there hasn’t been much demand for them.”

Prime witness, Mint Director Henrietta Holsman Fore, is a charming lady, clearly someone the senators were not about to attack.

With pride she reminded the Senators that under a recent deal 10 million Sacagaweas would be distributed at NASCAR racetracks this year. (At the end of fiscal 2001 over 320 million coins were in storage). She implored these important men to support any program to get the federal government to use the coins more.

It’s Fore’s opinion that the Susan B. Anthony Dollar is part of the problem. On occasions when Sacagaweas are ordered from the Fed, they come mixed with the despised Susan B. Anthony. To solve this problem, Fore advised that the Mint is considering removing the Susan B. from circulation.

A highlight of the hearings was the appearance of Amy Mossett, wearing traditional Indian garb. She testified that on the cab trip to the hearing she tipped the driver a Sacagawea. Dismayed, she reported that he didn’t know what it was.

There is a tag line to this Sacagawea story.

Earlier this month it was reported that two US Mint employees were charged with stealing and selling five $1 Sacagawea coins that eventually resold for $138,000. That’s an average of about $28,000 each. What’s that? A coin that they can’t give away fetches five figures?

The five coins were mint errors. In this instance the Sacagawea planchet (coin blank) was struck by a faulty die. The front (obverse) of this die contained a Washington quarter. The underside (reverse) of the die held the Sacagawea. The result was a “mule,” an error of such consequence that many dealers would sell their children into slavery just to obtain one.

The “mint error” is a significant subdivision of numismatics. There are clubs catering to error collectors only, reference books, students and dealers who exclusively buy and sell errors.

There are several major categories of mint errors: The first involves the striking of the planchet itself. If a planchet slips out of the collar which surrounds it, an off-center coin may result. (Only a portion of the strike appears on the planchet). A 50 percent off-center is very desirable to the collector.

On other occasions the die strikes the planchet more than once and the result is doubled or multiple strikes on a coin. In the famous “Double Die 1955 Lincoln Cent” the die itself is doubled. This item is a “blue chip” to the error collector.

Even a blank planchet,where no strike took place at all, may be valuable.

Other famous, very desirable mint errors can be traced to WW2. In 1943, because of the shortage of copper, the U.S.Mint struck the Lincoln cent in zinc-coated steel. This allowed for the possibility of two major errors: A 1943 cent mistakenly struck on a 1944 copper planchet and a 1944 Lincoln inadvertently struck on a ’43 steel planchet.

Twenty-five years ago I sold a 1944-S steel cent for a client, realizing about $4,000. I imagine it may be worth 10 times that today.

Another interesting case that has been in and out of the numismatic press since 1986 involves a 1959 D Lincoln cent struck on a 1958 planchet (1958 was the last year the reverse side of the coin displayed wheat stalks. 1959 was the first year the Dictator’s Monument appeared on the reverse side).

The most interesting aspect of the 1959 D error cent is that it is coming up for auction at the end of July — and the owners of the coin have written various trade publications and grading services threatening them not to question the authenticity of the item as the US Mint has on two occasions certified that it was a genuine mint error and not a phony manufactured one.

As a long time coin dealer, I must admit the whole area of coin errors, mules, and freak items represent the underclass of the hobby. This observation does not apply to some of the” Mint Error” dealers, who, unlike the coins they handle, are not freakish or prone to error.

The numismatic gods know of my general contempt for mint errors and they have maliciously placed me smack in the middle of a major, controversial mint error. A fellow dealer showed me a Wartime Jefferson nickel dated 1946. As the graphic below shows, the silver Wartime Nickel was minted from 1942 through 1945. A 1946 Jefferson would be a classic WRONG metal coin. In short, a potential bombshell for the hobby.

Since the wartime nickel planchet contains about 35 per cent silver, it oxidizes in a consistent manner and has a unique look, recognizable from across the room. In my view the 1946 silver Wartime is a genuine mint error.

An old pal, one of the world’s leading authorities on such matters, is helping with the process of authentication. It’s all moving very slowly, but within a few weeks we hope to have the item authenticated by one of the prestigious independent coin grading services, PCGS or NGC.

The only unknown here is the attitude of the Treasury Department. Even in the old days, the Mint was very sensitive about errors they struck. Today, who knows how they will react to this “new” major error even though it was minted 56 years ago.

When the eight-year-old asked the librarian for a book on turtles, and she returned with a giant volume he looked at her, then at the book, and said, “I never wanted to know that much about turtles.”

You, dear reader, surely did not want to know that much about mint errors, but, the existence of the ’46 Wartime has NOT been reported anywhere. You are the first on your block to hear about it.

LRC is getting a real scoop. The story may be important enough to be “Breaking News” on the Fox Network.

Oh by the way, if the 1946 Wartime nickel is authentic, the sky is the limit on its value.

Even though my financial interest in the coin is only twenty percent, the beers are still on me.