Columbus resident Barry Ferrow holds a two-tailed quarter he received as a birthday present 10 years ago. He is eager to learn whether the coin is a fake or the result of a rare minting error that could make the coin extremely valuable.
August 20, 2014 10:51:25 AM
Pete Creekmore sits in a chair in his upstairs office at Rae's Jewelers on Tuesday afternoon, hunched over his microscope, examining two quarters that have one "head" between them or, if you prefer, three "tails."
Standing just behind Creekmore, Barry Ferrow leans in, awaiting a verdict that could mean the difference between 25 cents and $100,000, maybe more.
"When you look at them together, you can't really see any difference," Creekmore says after studying the two coins for a few minutes.
This story begins about 10 years ago, when Ferrow received this unusual coin, a U.S. quarter with "tails" on both sides, as a birthday present from his daughter's fiance at the time.
Ferrow had always had a interest in coins, although he would hardly call himself a collector.
"I've had a few coins you might call rare coins," he says. "Nothing really big. I've had buffalo nickels, Liberty half-dollars, silver dollars. I guess he knew that, so he gave me this quarter with two tails.
"I thought, maybe it was worth something, maybe two or three hundred dollars, but I never did bother with having it checked out. I just put it away. I never showed it to nobody because I didn't know if it was real."
Only recently did Ferrow begin to wonder about the coin's authenticity -- and its worth.
His grandson came across an interesting story on the Internet about a two-tailed quarter that had been authenticated in 2001. That coin was valued from between $75,000 and $100,000.
Ferrow says that interesting tidbit, along with the need to come up with some extra money after he incurred some medical expenses related to his wife's illness (she died in 2009) was enough to pique his curiosity.
Ferrow, 69, has been a carrier with The Dispatch off and on since 1977. Monday, as he was picking up his papers, he made his way into the offices and mentioned this odd quarter to our publisher, Birney Imes, who introduced Ferrow to me.
I told Ferrow I would do some research, make some calls and get back to him.
It didn't take long to discover that truncated coins that feature two heads, two tails or double stamps (two heads stamped on the same side of the coin) are not all that unusual.
They are often produced as gimmicks, sometimes used as magicians' props.
"I wouldn't say we see them all the time, but we will have two or three come in during a year," says Bob Jane', a numismatist (currency collector) and member of the Professional Numismatists Guild who works for Southern Coins and Collectibles in Metaire, Louisiana.
"Genuine two headed or two-tailed coins are extremely rare, mainly because of the way coins are minted. It is extremely unlikely for a coin to be minted that way, although, yes, it has happened."
Jane' suggested a few tests to see if Ferrow's quarter was the real deal.
"The easiest thing you can do is take a regular quarter, hold it about two inches above a table, drop it and listen to the sound. It will have a distinct ringing sound," he suggested. "Then take the two-tailed coin and do the same thing. If it's a fake, it will have almost a hollow sound."
Another test involves weighing the coin. Jane' said a non-silver quarter, one minted after 1965, will weigh 5.67 grams. A truncated coin will weigh less.
Finally, the quarter can be examined under a microscope to see if a seam or ridge where two coins have been fused together.
"What they do is hollow out one coin and apply it to the other," Jane' said. " It's a very intricate process, as you can imagine. It requires some skill and some precision equipment."
Tuesday afternoon's inspection did not reveal any tell-tale seam, Creekmore said, but the two other tests were more revealing.
Creekmore dropped a quarter from his cash register onto his desk, producing a familiar ring. He tried the same with Ferrow's quarter.
"Did you hear the difference," Creekmore asked. "It had almost a dull sound, didn't it? It definitely sounds different."
Then it was on to the weight measurement.
Ferrow's quarter weighed just 5.45 grams, far less than the standard 5.67 grams.
Curiously, though, Creekmore's regular quarter weighed 5.74 grams, almost a tenth of a gram heavier than the standard weight.
"I can't say for certain," he said. "But I would lean more in the 'it's not real' direction. I'm not a coin expert, though."
Jane' said that if Ferrow is still unsure of the coin's authenticity, the best advice he could give would be to send the coin in for authentication.
"There are only two places you should ever send a coin to in order to have it authenticated," said, Jane' who said he would tell Ferrow how to proceed if our preliminary tests proved inconclusive.
"It's probably not real," Ferrow said. "But I'm still curious. I could use the money."
Stay tuned, as they say.
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.