|The Wisconsin State Quarter
was released October 25, 2004. No one anticipated the excitement that
was to follow a few months later, when an extra "leaf" was discovered
on a few of them. United States Mint image.
The presence of an extra cornstalk leaf on the
2004-D Wisconsin State
Quarter has jazzed both collectors and non-collectors alike. When mass
media headlines scream "Hidden Treasure in Your Pocket Change?", small
wonder that word of the Wisconsin State Quarter error has made its way
into everyday conversation.
Here's the lowdown: Wisconsin State Quarters were released amidst the
usual fanfare in October 2004. Toward the end of December, some
curious-looking Wisconsin State Quarters were discovered in Tucson,
Arizona. These quarters appeared to possess an extra "leaf" added to
the ear of corn on the Wisconsin reverse side design. Apparently, there
are two varieties, one with the "leaf" pointing down, and the other
with the "leaf" pointing upward. All of the "extra leaf" error quarters
came from the Denver Mint.
News of the oddity traveled fast. Some collectors and dealers began
offering hundreds of dollars for a Wisconsin State Quarter error coin.
Stories appeared in television broadcasts and general circulation print
media, prompting even non-collectors to empty out their piggy banks for
a second look. Near the crescendo of the frenzy, certain individual
coins were selling for as high as $1500. After a few thousand of the
coins were found, prices cooled off, but still, a collector can expect
to pay hundreds of dollars on eBay
for an Uncirculated Wisconsin State Quarter error coin.
|A regular Wisconsin State Quarter
does not include something resembling an additional cornstalk leaf. United
States Mint image.
||A Wisconsin State Quarter bearing
what appears to be an extra leaf. This is the "Low Leaf" variety. Image
courtesy of CoinPage.
||This is the "High Leaf" variety.
Were these varieties the result of a die cut mishap, or the work of a
meddler? Image courtesy of CoinPage.
So what was the cause for this error coin? There was some controversy
associated with this question. Some experts believed the raised
features next to the ear of corn were the result of curved metal
shavings becoming accidentally lodged in the coin die, which eventually
got pounded into the die itself by the coin striking action, leaving a
gouge in the die. As more coins were struck by the same die, coin metal
flowed into the gouged recess, giving the coin an appearance of another
leaf. Those who subscribe to this theory also point out that these
so-called leaves fall far short of proper design definition, are
awkwardly placed, and lack texture.
Other observers, equally knowledgeable of the coining process,
speculated that this was no mistake at all, that the extra leaves were
added deliberately in an unauthorized manner by someone inside the
Denver Mint. The basis for this theory is that it seems too
coincidental that two random dies (i.e. one for each "extra leaf"
variety) independently acquired gouged recesses in just the right spot
to give the appearance of an added leaf. The odds of such an event
occurring on two different dies are astronomical, they argued, and are
far more likely attributed to the intentional efforts of an amateur
In the August 2007 issue of The Numismatist, the official publication
of the American
collector Chris Pilliod, who is a metallurgist by profession, published
the results of a scientific investigation into the cause of the extra
leaves. The evidence he gathered, much of it through scanning electron
microscopy, led him to conclude the "error" was done intentionally. The
window of opportunity was the time between die hubbing and final heat
treat, when the die metal is soft enough that someone can alter the
design with a punch tool and hammer. High magnification revealed metal
flow evidence consistent with theory, while eliminating other possible
causes. We are still left to wonder why someone would do such a thing.
How many of the "error" coins exist? An investigation revealed Denver
Mint operators noticed the Wisconsin defects early on and pulled the
offending dies from service. Based on the slight amount of wear on the
dies at their retirement, it is estimated that 20,000 of the Low Leaf
and 15,000 of the High Leaf varieties made it into a massive coin
hopper, and were soon bundled into rolls alongside standard Wisconsin
quarters and escaped to the public.
Years from now, will anyone be excited about owning a Wisconsin extra
leaf variety? Will collectors eagerly seek them out? Who knows, but one
is reminded of a couple of other mishaps at the Denver Mint long ago
that to this very day cause racing hearts and sweaty palms amongst
numismatists: the 1922
Lincoln Cent and the 1937-D
Buffalo Nickel have both earned a high place in coin lore, with
impressive value increases over time to prove it. Perhaps a similar,
lofty status awaits the 2004-D Wisconsin "error" quarter.