Wisconsin Extra Leaves
By Richard Snow, NLG
'I wanted to embarrass them' is perhaps what he would say, if he was ever found out and questioned. We'll call him 'Roger' but his identity is still unknown. What is known is that in the week prior to the Thanksgiving weekend back in 2004, Roger got his chance at making his mark on numismatic history.
It was nothing unusual for a tray of dies for the current Wisconsin State Quarter to come to his workspace in the die storage room. In fact, it was routine. The dies were still in a workable soft-state as they were fresh from the annealing furnace. Roger picked up small screwdriver tool, the kind with interchangeable bits. But this time, there was no bit in the tool. He carefully lined up the circular end of the tool near the corn husk on one of the dies and gave it a strong whack. After examining the mark, he decided to give it a second impression. Whack! 'Too low' he thought as he lined the tool up on a second die. Whack! This time the first hit worked perfectly. The marks actually looked like they belonged on the design. They looked like extra leaves on the ear of corn. The dies were put back in the tray waiting to be sent to the furnace to be heat-treated.
A few days later, on Thanksgiving weekend, the newly hardened dies were delivered to the press room where five large presses were stamping out Wisconsin State quarters. Each press had a single coining chamber, so the two dies with Roger's 'special mark' were installed in separate presses. After installation of the dies, the pressman checked to make sure the planchet feeder was full and, satisfied that everything was working properly, pushed the button and started the press. He then went to lunch.
The coins coming out must be constantly inspected. To do this, an inspector walks from press to press and randomly looks carefully at the coins being produced. He came to one of the presses stamping out Roger's special creations. The inspector grabbed a coin and examined it. He noticed the extra mark and immediately shut down the press. Moving on to the next press, the inspector noticed another defect and shut that press down too.
What happened next, we can't say for certain since the Mint didn't investigate the matter until six months later.
On December 11, Bob Ford, a sharp-eyed retired police officer living in Tucson Arizona was going through a bag of quarters from his local bank when he came upon one of the quarters containing Roger's mark. Rather than becoming elated at the discovery, he became slightly discouraged, thinking 'Now I'll have to go through all of these coins again'. When he was finished, Bob had found about 150 or so of the specially marked quarters. He put one of these coins on eBay and it sold for a whopping $1.35. The following week, he brought some of the coins to Rob Weiss of Old Pueblo Coins in Tucson. Rob and his employee, Ben Weinstein, thought the coins were an interesting collectable variety. They did some research and tried to find more. They then called the local newspaper as well as Coin World and Numismatic News.
On January 3, 2005 I was getting ready to leave for a trip to Disney World with my family. After the trip I would stay for the FUN show in Ft. Lauderdale. Just minutes before I left, I recall seeing the cover of the local paper with Rob Weiss' picture on it. 'It sure was nice to see Rob get the front page' I thought. I then began to read about the Wisconsin quarters with the extra marks. 'This is something special' I thought. I instructed one of my employees, Bret Palser, to find out more about these quarters and to see if he could get some for the FUN show. He was able to buy up about 50 of the marked quarters for $10 to $15 each.
The 2005 FUN show was busy and I had the curious quarters lying in my case for a couple days, with only a few of my customers seeing them. On Friday at the show, I took a set of them and walked the show floor, stopping any notable numismatist I could find, to get their opinion. I knew I had something when I stopped by Dave Bowers' table and showed the coins to him. He studied them and asked 'How much for a set'? I said $150. He bought it and called David Hall over from PCGS, who was intrigued with them as well. 'What should we call them' I asked. 'How about ‘Extra Leaf' quarters', Dave Bowers suggested, since Roger's mark near the corn stalk looked like an extra leaf on the corn stalk. Shortly thereafter, Dave Bowers sent his set in to PCGS for grading and attribution, and it became the first graded set of the Wisconsin Extra Leaf Quarters - the High Leaf and Low Leaf.
When I got back to my table there was a crowd wanting to see and buy the quarters at the same $150 per set price. I decided to hold back the few remaining sets I had and began thinking about the opportunities waiting me back in Tucson where these were being found.
When I returned from the show, I immediately offered to buy any and all examples from the various dealers in town for $50 apiece. I ended up getting 300 or so coins in my hands but my sudden interest in the Extra Leafs created a bit more interest by the other dealers in town as well. Soon, Tucson was like a gold rush town! People were flooding the banks with requests for quarters. Examples even started popping up in San Antonio, Texas as well as other places. I figured that even if these were dirt common, they should be worth $50 each, so I didn't think my offer too risky. I submitted the coins I bought at the $50 level to PCGS and NGC and got them back within a few days - on a bulk submission, no less!
Around this time I gave an interview to an Associated Press reporter who warned me at the conclusion of the interview, 'I hope you're ready for what's ahead!' Well, it turns out I wasn't. The news broke nationwide that the coins were being bought by me for $50. Rather than get inundated with sellers, I got inundated with buyers. The NGC certified three-piece sets were priced between $300 for the MS64 sets to $1,100 for the MS67 sets. The few hundred sets I had submitted sold out within a few days. Many of these buyers turned around and offered their sets on eBay for instant profits. Some of these eBay sales were getting 10,000 'watchers'.
Bob Ford was a good friend and had started cherrypicking varieties from circulation back in the early 1990's. I got him started in this field, when he came to me looking for a cheap way to enjoy the hobby. His wife got to calling him 'Nickel-neck' for the time he spent looking at coins. After discovering the Extra Leaf quarters, he came to me and asked if I would help him sell the 100 sets he had. These were special coins and we didn't want them to be lost to history, so we sent them to NGC and they made special holders saying that these were 'Bob Ford Discovery Sets'. These sold for a premium and were a big hit with collectors. Bob used the money to take a sea cruise. Sadly, he passed away about a year later.
By February 2005, finds of these quarters began to dwindle and it looked like the Extra Leaf quarter varieties would be rather scarce. The prices began to climb higher. Human nature being what it is there were those who began spreading false rumors. One rumor that was taken seriously in the hobby press was that a full bag of Extra Leaf quarters had been found in Ohio. This could easily be dismissed since Denver Mint coins weren't delivered to Ohio and the Extra Leaf quarters were never found in solid rolls, let alone bags. Some prominent error experts claimed the Extra Leaf was caused by random die damage and thus had little collector value. These claims took a long time to dispel, but they were all eventually proved false with the independent research from variety expert and top-notch metallurgist, Chris Pilliod.
Towards the end of 2005, my involvement in marketing these coins ended since my core business is buying and selling Indian cents. I sold all my remaining Extra leaf quarters in December 2005. My timing could not have been worse, as prices soon shot up to extraordinary levels. A couple of things happened to make the prices shoot up. First, the rarity levels became more established and some collectors felt that there was great future potential in the quarters. The 2007 Red Book was released in the spring of 2006 and mentioned the coins. The Extra Leaf quarters were becoming a mainstream variety. The prices paid on eBay began to rise dramatically. Three-piece sets graded by NGC as MS67 were being bid up on eBay to unsustainable levels - in some cases up to $10,000. This bubble caused by the eBay bidding frenzy didn't last and prices soon collapsed. Those same NGC MS67 sets today are trading around $3,000. Since then prices have remained soft compared to 2006. I believe this softness is because eBay is the main venue for sales and there was virtually no dealer participation in marketing the quarters. When the only sales information comes from eBay, where prices can jump all over the place, it is difficult to get a handle on the actual pricing. The current prices are listed on page 10 of the Coin Dealer Newsletter Monthly Supplement under Early Singles and Varieties. Pricing is also in the Red Book, Coin Values and Coin Prices. There is still interest in the coins, as a single PCGS graded MS-67 High Leaf variety recently sold for $10,000. This is a pop 2 coin and was offered for as much as $45,000 in 2006.
I think the Wisconsin Extra Leaf quarters are a very intriguing variety and will someday become as valuable to collectors as the 1955 Double Die cent and the 1937-D 3-legged Buffalo nickel -- two varieties of nearly equal rarity to each of the Extra Leaf varieties. To help people better understand the Extra leaf quarters, I made two short informational videos -- one details how they were made and the other shows the price history up to 2007. These can be found on my web site - www.indiancent.com.
Rick Snow is a specialist dealer in Flying Eagle and Indian Cents. He has written numerous books on these coins. His company, Eagle Eye Rare Coins is located in Tucson AZ.