Dr. Sol Taylor

America's Unique Coins

By Dr. Sol Taylor
"Making Cents"
Saturday, January 23, 2010

1873-CC 10c
The 1873-CC no-arrows dime is believed unique. That means there is one of them. Not two, not a few, but one. Image courtesy of Heritage Auction Galleries (ha.com).
he word "unique" means "one of a kind". It often is incorrectly used to mean "rare" or "unusual."
    Over the years, the United States Mint and its predecessors have created unique coins. In some cases, the single coin was a trial coin such as the Brasher doubloon with the "EB" punch on the eagle's breast. In other cases, the single coin known is the only one remaining from a very small mintage. And in a very few cases, the single coin was capriciously made from existing dies which were never put into general use.
    Since the first federal Mint opened in Philadelphia in 1792, several such unique coins are known — and a very few unknown, indicating that if only a very few were made it is currently unknown in any collection. One might refer to a coin of which two are known as "semi-unique."
    Starting with the small cents, a single 1909 Indian head cent is known in gold, presumably on a $2.50 planchet. This was not intended as a regular Mint product, but it was produced at the Mint.
    In 1915 a known Lincoln cent was also struck on a $2.50 gold planchet, presumed for the Pan Pacific commemorative coin. It, too, is unique, and was never intended as a regular coinage issue.
    There are two certified 1917 matte proof Lincoln cents, although records do not indicate any such matte proofs were made in 1917. The 1943-D cent struck in bronze (instead of the wartime steel composition) is believed to be a capricious product actually made by the chief engraver of the U.S. Mint. Of all the known and attributed bronze 1943 cents, it is the only one believed not to be a regular Mint product (although considered an error).
    The enigmatic 1959-D wheatback cent has been attributed by the Treasury Department as a genuine U.S. Mint product, although none of the certification services would ascribe it as genuine. A unique coin, it sold at auction a few years ago for more than $40,000. The 1958 doubled-die cent is semi-unique, as two have been certified. Probably many more were minted but discovered early on and withdrawn before they could enter circulation. So far, only two have surfaced.
    In the half-dime series, the 1870-S is listed as unique. It is believed to be a part of a complete set of 1870-S coins made for a time capsule — with other 1870-S coins such as the unique 1870-S $3 gold piece. The 1873-CC no-arrows dime is listed as unique with a July 2004 auction bid of $891,000. There is no Mint record of an 1870-S quarter dollar, although it is mentioned in various contemporary documents. If it does exist, it probably is unique.
    The 1866 "without motto" half dollar is listed as unique. The design was changed in 1866 to include the motto "In God We Trust." The 1873-S half dollar without arrows at the date is probably unique, but is unknown in any collection. Mint records show 5,000 were minted. The arrows were added to date in 1873 and possibly the majority (or even all) of the no-arrows type were melted.
    The 1866 silver dollar without motto is semi-unique; one sold in January 2005 for $1.207 million. Records show that seven hundred 1873-S silver dollars were minted, but no specimen is known in any collection. It is possible that the entire mintage was melted.
    In the gold coin series, in addition to the 1870-S $3 gold, there are two $5 gold pieces dated 1797, one with 15 stars and the other with 16 stars. Each is unique, and both are in the Smithsonian Institute.
    The very rare 1822 $5 gold shows three known, so it doesn't quite make the "unique" category. The 1825/24 $5 gold is one of two known and thus is "semi-unique." The 1841-O $5 had a mintage of 50 but is unknown in any collection. It is possibly unique — or even non-existent.
    The 1849 $20 was struck for Congressional approval of the new high denomination coinage. The single piece is in the Smithsonian Institute and was displayed at the ANA convention in Los Angeles in August 2009. Finally, the Ultra High Relief 1907 $20 with a plain edge is unique — most likely a trial piece for the later issues of 1907 with lettered edges.
    This survey does not include various minting errors and varieties not listed in the standard coin catalogs. It also does not include pattern coins, many of which were also unique, nor trial strikings such as off-metal strikes in aluminum, pewter, gold and other metals than the intended metal. Pre-federal coinage is not included as there are few or limited mintage records of most issues, although many surviving coins are unique, semi-unique or just plain rare.
    Remember: If it is not one-of-a-kind, it is NOT UNIQUE.