Tales from the Bourse is a unique collection of short stories and anecdotes written by David Lawrence about some of more interesting events that took place in his journey to becoming a coin dealer on a national scale. It was originally published in 2001 and has been reprinted numerous times due to popular demand. The book is published online here in its entirely.
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Every stamp collector knows about the famous “upside-down” airmails of 1918. However, coin errors don’t enjoy that kind of recognition. I’m not sure why, but it may have something to do with coin errors all being unique, whereas stamps are made in sheets and the error appears on every one, thereby being available to 50 or 100 collectors.
The closest thing we have to the error airmails is probably those coins that are made on the wrong planchet, or from the wrong metal. I’m thinking of the 1943 copper cents (that year they were supposed to be of steel with a zinc cover, because copper was needed in the war effort).
But these aren’t interesting looking, like the stamps. The errors I like are coins struck off center, or struck twice. You know the moment you see them that something is wrong. Over the years I’ve had a few. Usually Barbers worth a couple of hundred dollars or less. Two, however, were really spectacular.
The first came to me early on in my dealer days. I didn’t really appreciate it, as I would now. It was a Barber half, which had two reverses (and no obverse). One side was perfectly normal; the other was “incuse” (indented).
Here’s how I think it was made: The coin before it in production somehow failed to get ejected from between the dies and, when the planchet that became my coin was placed between the reverse die and the first coin, the first coin acted like a die itself.
In error parlance, the coin was a “full brockage.” Very rare in general, and perhaps unique among Barbers. I paid $2,900 for it, a lot of money for me at the time. When I sold it a few years later it was because I couldn’t justify tying up the money just because I thought it was “neat.”
As I recall, I got my money back. A couple of years later I heard from Oregon dealer Steve Estes that it had first shown up at a Tijuana, Mexico racetrack, and the teller had kept and sold it to a coin shop in San Diego. The coin had a San Francisco mint mark but, of course, no date since it didn’t have an obverse.
Sure wish I had kept it — a real museum piece.
The second coin was a Barber dime that was double struck in such a way that the large “S” mint mark was at 12:00, as well as in its usual place at 6:00. It was slightly off-center so you couldn’t be sure of its date, but it likely wasn’t completely ejected from the dies the first time, and so got struck again.
This coin was offered to me by a dealer friend at a Long Beach, Calif., show about 7-8 years ago for $500. I had no idea if it was worth that, so John ran it to an error specialist who told him, “Buy it and I’ll give you a handsome profit.”
On that advice, we made the purchase, but I had no intention of selling it. I was proud of this coin. Over the years I showed it to many people, collectors and dealers alike, but no one had ever seen another Barber like it. I was editing the Barber Society journal during those years and in one issue I put it on the cover for others to enjoy.
It’s a bit unfortunate that it was a dime, because they are small. Recently, after my diagnosis of Lou Gehrig’s disease, I sold it to a member of the Society for $1,500. If it had been a half dollar, I imagine it would have been worth at least $5,000.