“To err is human; to forgive is divine,” is a famous quote by 18th-century English poet, Alexander Pope. Human history has left us with ample opportunity to be considered divine according to the standard set by Pope. Significant errors in human history include NASA taping over the moon landing. There are no original recordings of man first landing on the moon. This blunder serves as fuel for conspiracy theorists who claim the entire event was staged.
Imagine the planning that went into the Tower of Pisa. After all, it took 177 years to build. Despite the best efforts by humanity, it took only 10 years for it to begin leaning. Human error has led to the now, Leaning Tower of Pisa to become one of the most photographed places in the world. Sometimes human error is not the result of incompetence but overconfidence. In the case of the Titanic, the fallacy that the ship was “unsinkable” resulted in not having enough life boats. This proved to be costly as 1,503 people lost their lives in the accident.
Other human errors are a direct result of incompetence. The Decca Records executive with the corner office that turned down the Beatles claiming that they weren’t sellable or the 12 book publishers who turned down Harry Potter probably lost their lofty positions rather quickly. Think of where civilization would be if someone had not decided to burn the library of Alexandria. Many consider it to be the single greatest loss of knowledge ever. Civilization has never recovered.
In some cases human errors do not result in the loss of documenting historical events, knowledge or in extreme cases, human life. The U.S. Mint errors sometimes result in creating coins that are far more valuable than their face value. These errors should be somewhat expected considering the U.S. Mint produces billions of coins each year.
These are some of the most well-known and valuable U.S. Mint errors in history:
1909 Lincoln Cent Wheat Penny
Minting techniques in 1909 are not what they are today. As a result of the minting techniques, age, and chemical reaction, the 1909 Lincoln Cent Wheat Penny can have a very unique rainbow of colors. While half a trillion pennies were minted in 1909, only half a million were minted in San Francisco where the faulty minting occurred, making this error very difficult to find. As a result, these pennies are worth a few thousand dollars. There is even a variation of this rarity. The 1909-S VDB Lincoln Cent features the initials of the coin’s designer, Victor David Brenner.
1955 Lincoln Doubled Die Wheat Cent
A doubled die coin is the result of a coin being struck from a die that was accidentally engraved with a doubled image. This was a result of a single impression not being enough to transfer the design elements of the hub to the die. The hub was not aligned correctly for the second impression leading to overlapping or a double die. Essentially, this a crooked copy of the coin’s design directly on top of the original design. There are only about 24,000 of these pennies that went into circulation. Despite the rarity of the coin, these pennies only bring about half of the 1909 Lincoln Cent Wheat Penny.
1969-S 1C Doubled Die Lincoln Cent
This version of the penny is quite rare. After discovering the error, the Secret Service confiscated the coins under the pretense that they were counterfeit. The U.S. Mint confessed to the error after the coins had been confiscated. Because of its unique history, these coins have enjoyed a legendary status from almost the beginning. The result of the status is a hefty price tag starting at $30,000.
Standing Liberty Quarter 10% Off-Center
The flaws in the Standing Liberty Quarter 10% Off-Center coins are obvious to spot. They simply missed their mark by a full 10%. The result is a coin with its design that is 10% to the left and a blank area on the far right side of the coin. The value for these coins are north of $10,000.
Errors do not always result in valuable coins. The Robert Burns quote, “The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry,” probably describes these errors by the U.S. Mint. They have not led to a dramatic increase in the value of the coin but begs the question, “What were they thinking?”
1943 Steel Penny
These pennies had disaster written all over them from the beginning but despite the obvious issues the U.S. Mint released these pennies into circulation. Although the steel penny was coated with zinc, once the coating wore off the penny would rust. The steel was not accepted by the public for other reasons as well. The look and light weight of the steel penny was unappealing to most.
Two Cent Piece
Evidently, carrying two pennies was too much of a burden so the U.S. Mint issued the 2 Cent Piece beginning in 1864. It is the first coin not to include “IN GOD WE TRUST.” The coin was never popular and was unceremoniously cancelled by the U.S. Mint after 1873.
Susan B Anthony Dollar
One of the most notorious coins in the history of United States coinage has to be on this list. On the surface the SBA Dollar had the best of intentions, honoring a recognizable woman but fell short of being distinctive in its look and feel from the quarter. What does that say about George Washington? Too many people found the coin to be annoyingly similar to the quarter and used it in place of a quarter far too many times. The coin was only minted from 1979 to 1981 and again in 1999.
“Cheerios” Dollar Sacagawea Coin
The Sacagawea Dollar was the SBA Dollar 2.0. The U.S. Mint attempted to fix everything that ailed the SBA Dollar by giving the new coin a smooth edge and a gold color. It also failed miserably because people remained loyal to the dollar bill instead of the Sacagawea Dollar.
To distinguish the coin from the quarter, the Sacagawea Dollar was minted with a plain edge, gold color, and unique design. There is a variation of the Sacagawea Dollar. Known as the “Cheerios Dollar,” because in 2000 the coin was included in 1 in every 2000 boxes of Cheerios. The tail feathers of the eagle on the reverse of the coin are slightly different from the coins that were sent directly into circulation. Only about 5,500 of these Cheerios coins are believed to exist. Cheerios coins receiving high grades have sold between $10,000 - $30,000.