Jaime Hernandez -
April 23, 2012
In 1959, the U.S. Mint changed the reverse design of the Lincoln cent from a wheat reverse to a new memorial reverse. As a result, all Lincoln cents dated 1959-2008 should have a memorial reverse design.
In 1986, a retired police officer named Leon Baller announced that he bought a 1959-D Lincoln cent with a wheat reverse design. This type of coin is referred to as a "Mule," since all 1959 cents should have a memorial reverse design. Baller claims he purchased the coin for $1,500.
In 1987, Baller sent the coin to the United States Department of Treasury, and agent Richard M. McDrew responded with a letter (along with his coin) that stated, "Enclosed is your United States 1C coin, dated 1959-D, with a wheat reverse. This coin was microscopically examined by our Forensic Services Division in Washington, D.C. and it is our opinion the coin is genuine." What the letter did not mention was the agent who inspected the coin was actually a currency expert, not a coin expert.
In the following years, the coin was submitted to different grading companies including PCGS in the hope that one of them would label it as authentic. In all cases, the coin was returned without being graded or deemed authentic. Not to mention, it was even speculated that the coin was produced using a spark erosion process. This is a method used to make fake coins.
Years later, Baller sold the coin to Heritage Auctions for an undisclosed amount. Heritage then sold the coin to a collector who then resubmitted it to the Treasury Department in 2002. The Treasury once again returned the coin indicating that after several tests were conducted, they found no evidence that the coin was fake.
The coin then became available in a Goldberg's Auction in September of 2002; however, the coin was suddenly pulled from the auction as convicted forger Mark Hofmann claimed he produced this piece using the spark erosion process. Hofmann had read a column in Coin World discussing the Mule cent and sent a letter to his daughter from prison claiming he had produced the coin. The Secret Service later reported that they found no merit to Hofmann's claim. In February 2003, the coin was then reoffered in a Goldberg's Auction where it sold for $48,300.
In 2010, the coin reappeared at another Goldberg's Auction, where it sold for $31,050. The sale description indicated, "This property is not guaranteed to be authentic, and is marketable as it is, cannot be returned."
So, is the coin real or fake? No one really knows for sure. However, it is curious that after 50 years, only one coin is known to exist. The odds of only one coin being discovered after all this time makes it very difficult to imagine, since a coin press operates so fast and usually strikes more than just one coin. If you ask any coin expert who really understands the coin minting process, most will agree that the coin is not an authentic mint-made coin. One thing is for certain, the 1959-D Mule cent is definitely one of the most controversial coins in numismatics.
What do you think? We would love to hear your opinion on the 1959-D Mule cent. Email [email protected] and share your thoughts.