In mid-January a pair of almost identical 1971-D Washington quarter dollars struck on solid copper-nickel blanks were reunited after two separate coin dealers parted with them. Weighing 4.81 grams, the first coin was in the possession of error dealer Jon Sullivan, and according to Mike Diamond of Coin World, its distinguishing markings include two extremely thin, “partially worn-through spots of embedded copper-colored metal on the reverse face.” The second coin, owned by error dealer Jim Cauley, weighed in at 4.77 grams. Upon analysis by Roger Paulen of the Geological Survey of Canada, it was determined that the “orphan” coins’ composition matches that of a 5-cent piece (75 percent copper and 25 percent nickel).
In determining the how and why surrounding the existence of these “twin” orphan coins, Diamond examined many elements of the coins and the circumstances of their production. He found that the reeding on both coins is only partially complete. In the first coin, reeding is not complete around the obverse-adjacent part of the coin between 5:30 and 7:30, while reeding on the second coin is missing between 11:30 and 1:30. The markings on these coins reflect the probability that they were blanks, not planchets, that somehow did not make it through the upset mill or passed through it while the mill was producing a larger coin. Additionally, the substantial amount of metal flow present near the outer edges of both coins is indicative of the fact that blanks were smaller and thinner than the denomination being produced at the time they were struck.
Adding to this unsolved mystery are several pieces of information regarding the U.S. Mint and coin production in and around 1971. Interestingly, no foreign or domestic coins struck at the U.S. Mint in 1971 match the imprint on these coins, and the blanks could not have been supplied from elsewhere because the U.S. Mint made its own blanks during this time period. The small size of these coins rules out the possibility that they were punched by a quarter press, which also eliminates the theory that they could have been errors in foreign stock or mistakes that occurred in the bonding mill. Finally, Diamond also concluded that the coins were never resized due to force or damaged in any way prior to being struck.
Usually, misfit coins produced because of planchet and off-metal errors can be classified by looking at documentation regarding original time and purpose, but when no information exists to connect a planchet to the specific time, place, and purpose of production, the coin is considered an “orphan.”
Diamond further explains that coins are labeled as “orphan” if they fit under any of the following descriptions:
(1) A planchet/blank intended for an undocumented foreign coin.
(2) A blank punched out of stock intended for a foreign coin.
(3) A planchet intended for a token, medal, or other nonmonetary item.
(4) A slug or a circular hardware item like an unperforated washer or spacer.
(5) Improperly fabricated strip, blanks, or planchets.
(6) A planchet altered beyond recognition by chemical, thermal, or physical damage.
Because the majority of orphan coins are single and unlike any other, it seems that the “twin” coins may not have altogether been a mistake and may have actually been part of a tested plan for future production. Diamond’s best theory for what the coins are is that they were blanks that were readied for some sort of foreign currency that was never actually produced.