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Tail feather mark found

Is there a way to identify a San Francisco Mint silver Eagle that doesn’t have a mintmark on it once it has left the 25th anniversary set?

That and other questions are being asked by collectors poring over these recently delivered coins.

While the word has been out for several weeks and our messenger does not claim to be the discoverer, Brian Calabrese of Southington, Conn., has advised Numismatic News that there may be two distinct design varieties of the 2011 silver American Eagle. This is the coin that is generally sold as a one-ounce bullion piece and bears no mintmark despite of the fact supplies of it are being stuck at both the San Francisco Mint and West Point.

One hundred thousand were also minted for the five-coin 25th anniversary sets struck for collectors that contain a traditional West Point proof with a “W” mintmark, a reverse P-mint proof, an uncirculated San Francisco coin bearing an “S” mintmark, a San Francisco-minted bullion coin bearing no mintmark and an uncirculated version bearing the “W” mintmark. The uncirculated coins from West Point are burnished uncirculated strikes that are identical to the ones sold as single coins to collectors directly from the Mint.

Apparently what observers are learning is that the “No Mintmark” San Francisco pieces found in the 25th anniversary sets have what some are calling a horizontal “hash mark” at the lower extremity of the Eagle’s tail feathers. It is also being found on the 25th anniversary San Francisco mintmark coins, which makes sense since both are being minted there.

Observers are also noticing that many if not most of the 2011 25th anniversary pieces (sans the mintmark) appear to have a more satiny or burnished look than the pieces that are being sold in bulk by bullion dealers. At this point, we really do not know if many or most bearing this characteristic is the result of a deliberate act by the Mint to enhance the coins for these sets, or just a reflection of the fact that most may be early strikes from new dies before they begin to show die wear.

In a 1998 VIP tour of the Philadelphia Mint, a Mint representative told me that uncirculated coins produced for mint sets (at that time) represented early strikes of better quality than general circulation strikes. As an example, he stated that a range of 100,000 to 200,000 Lincoln cents would be struck with a “little higher tonnage” than regular issues before the dies were retired to the vault to be used later for regular circulation strikes, which he stated were averaging 1.5 to 2 million coins per set of dies for cents.

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As such it would seem logical that the earlier strikes of the bullion no-mintmark San Francisco silver Eagles placed in the anniversary sets were possibly struck under a bit more tonnage than normal. This would give them a satiny or burnished-like appearance.

Since there were only 100,000 of these coins made for the 25th anniversary sets, very few dies would have been needed and they might have just been retired for good. If not, bullion coins struck from them exhibiting the “hash mark” could be mixed into the mass of bullion strikes like needles in a haystack and may take some time to find.

In a Nov. 30, response to a Numismatic News inquiry about the apparent differences in the finish on some or most of the 2011 Eagles sans the mintmark, Michael White, Office of Public Affairs at the US Mint, wrote:

“We are not aware of any bullion coins in the 25th anniversary sets being struck on burnished blanks used for the uncirculated coins in the set. The blanks for the bullion strikes are used straight from the vendor while the blanks for the uncirculated coin are cleaned and burnished. There may be similarities in the brightness range for the two products but greater variations in appearances are due to die-to-die hand finishing variation or how many strikes are on the die.”

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If this is true it means that no matter how much or little of the burnishing effect may show on coins from the 25th anniversary sets that if the feather variation is consistent on all the coins it could turn of to be a way to positively identify them as coming from 25th anniversary sets even after they have been removed from the sets. On the other hand it is too early to tell if this “harsh mark” is only found on the 25th anniversary coins. It is possible with more searching that it might be found on some of the San Francisco bullion issues without mintmarks that have been encapsulated and graded by third-party grading firms as San Francisco products, or even on some of the nearly 40 million West Point bullion issues that also do not have a mintmark.

So far it is just a characteristic of coins both with and without the “S” mintmark contained in the anniversary sets.

It is also possible that some of the 25th anniversary coins from San Francisco without a mintmark could be found without the “hash mark.” Of course, it goes without saying that the 2011-S mintmarked uncirculated silver Eagles should also be checked for both variations.

This could turn out to be a significant variety in addition to being a positive way to identify the mintmarkless 2011 San Francisco coins from the sets. More study is needed.

I ask that readers study coins in their original sets (not those purchased on the secondary market where coins could have been switched) and those with bullion issues to report to us on what they find.

Special thanks goes to Ed Davidson who supplied the images used here.

Ken Potter is the official attributer of world doubled dies for the Combined Organizations of Numismatic Error Collectors of America and for the National Collectors Association of Die Doubling. He also privately lists other collectible variety types on both U.S. and world coins in the Variety Coin Register. More information on either of the clubs or how to get a coin listed in the Variety Coin Register may be obtained by sending a long self-addressed envelope with 61 cents postage to P.O. Box 760232, Lathrup Village, MI 48076, or by contacting him via email at kpotter256@aol.com. An educational image gallery may be viewed on his web site at www.koinpro.com.

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