BY MARK MATHOSIAN
Do you have any gold-colored George Washington dollar coins? They are actually scarce since the U.S. Mint stopped circulating them. If you come across one, examine it closely. It may be worth 25 times or more than its face value. That’s because thousands were circulated without the familiar motto, “In God We Trust.” The Mint was unjustly accused of intentionally issuing the coins that way, and they became known as “Godless dollars.” They are now collectible as mint error coins and sell at a premium. Here’s the lowdown on the U.S. Mint’s biggest blunder ever.
The $1 Washington coins were released by the U.S. Mints in Philadelphia and Denver for regular distribution on or after February 15, 2007. Federal Reserve Banks around the country distributed the coins to member banks and credit unions and the coins were placed into general circulation. Almost immediately, unstamped coins surfaced in Jacksonville and Tallahassee, Florida. The first reporting of the error coins to the media and U.S. Mint appears to have been made by a representative of the Capital City Bank in Tallahassee.
On February 24th the Tallahassee Democratreported that Washington coins containing errors appeared in rolls of coins at the downtown branch of the bank. The article said that after opening a roll of coins, a bank teller noticed that “not all of them ($1 coins) were made equal. They were the same size, shape, and color, but some were missing the date and mint stamp.” The side, not the face of the coin, was supposed to say, “E Pluribus Unum In God We Trust 2007 P.” However, this information was missing. The article reported that the bank contacted a local coin dealer who said: “the likelihood to get errors on coins the first week distributed is like getting struck by lightning three times.” Bank officials then contacted the U.S. Mint and issued a press release saying they discovered the first misprint of the new presidential dollar coins.
The bank teller who found the coins listed one on eBay. By week’s end many coins were posted on eBay and even before the extent of the problem was known, sellers were offered between $25.00 and $600.00 for the wrongly stamped coins.
By March 2, 2007, the U.S. Mint acknowledged the minting error and issued a press release saying they had struck more than 300 million George Washington Presidential $1 Coins and that an unspecified quantity of the coins inadvertently left the U.S. Mint at Philadelphia without edge-lettering. It was unknown how many coins without inscriptions on the edge had been placed into circulation. They also said “The United States Mint understands the importance of the inscriptions “In God We Trust” and “E Pluribus Unum,” as well as the mint mark and year on U.S. coinage. We take this matter seriously. We also consider quality control a high priority. The agency is looking into the matter to determine a possible cause in the manufacturing process. Production of the Presidential $1 Coin, with its unique edge-lettering, is a new, complex, high volume manufacturing system, and the United States Mint is determined to make technical adjustments to perfect the process.”
Investigation revealed human error caused the problem. The Mint was unable to integrate its edge-lettering machinery into its automated process. Mint employees were tasked with loading struck coins into large bins and moving those bins to the edge lettering machine and then on to the sorting process. Somehow the step was missed, and coins went to sorting without the motto and date stamp. The fix for the problem was better quality control. It was noted that most errors occurred at the Philadelphia Mint, but some also happened at the Denver Mint. It was estimated over 100,000 error coins were released into circulation.
Since there is a great likelihood that some unstamped Washington dollar coins are still circulating, and because the hullaballoo over the minting error has quieted down, chances are good you can find one with an earnest attempt. My suggestion is that you track down unopened rolls of Washington coins issued in early 2007. However, if you simply want to own an error coin, check on eBay, local coin shops, and on-line coin dealers. There are lots of Washington error coins for sale, but they still demand a slight premium over face value.