In 2004, a single leaf turned a $1.65 generic coin set into a $32,000 heavyweight. Two years later, it is still rocking the coin world.
An extra leaf on an ear of corn and no one cares; an extra leaf on a coin and you have the hottest thing to hit modern coins. On December 11, 2004, Robert Ford discovered what would soon become key to the state quarter series. He found what appeared to be an extra leaf coming from the ear of corn on a Wisconsin state quarter. After examination, two different varieties were found — one with an "extra leaf high" and one with an "extra leaf low." These two coins would generate a nationwide search, an investigation, and hundreds of thousands of dollars in the coin market.
Soon after the discovery, the first set of the three coins was offered on eBay and sold for a $1.65. Since the find had not yet been disclosed, no market had been created for these coins. However, just a few weeks later, the coins were featured in Coin World, Numismatic News, message boards, and other numismatic media. The word spread and the search began. Thousands of the varieties sprung up in the Arizona, New Mexico and Texas areas. These coins were in high demand and prices quickly increased to a few hundred dollars a coin.
NGC began certifying the pieces in late 2004. This was a choice not without controversy, but after close examination of the coins they were found to be not only significant, but seemingly not accidental in nature. Thousands of coins were certified from AU to MS68 and the higher grade the example, the more of a premium one could get for the coin.
The question that plagued many at the time of the discovery still persists. What caused the variety in the first place? The shape, size, detail, and placement of the die gouges are too perfect for coincidence. While it is possible that it could happen accidentally, chances are that a die problem striking incident is not a cause. Others have suggested die clashing but due to the sharpness, placement, and lack of other die clashing evidence, it is not likely. A more likely possibility is intentional die damage and manipulation. The true cause may never be known.
Regardless, the variety was quickly accepted as relevant, not only by experts but by collectors and the marketplace as a whole. These pieces were easily accepted as a requirement for a State Quarter set by many collectors. While this series is typically readily available and highly collected, these pieces were scarce with only one of each die striking all of the coins produced. Since the coins were made for general circulation, no attempt by the United States Mint was made towards condition preservation and being that all pieces were found in rolls and change, grade became a crucial factor.
To date, NGC has graded over 8,000 extra leaf quarters of both varieties. Of that, only eight "Extra Leaf High" have graded MS68, and two "Extra Leaf Low" have graded MS68. 330 "Extra Leaf High" have graded MS67 and one MS67PL, with 304 "Extra Leaf Low" grading MS67 and only one MS67PL. Often sold in sets, a set of MS68 coins was last being offered with a price tag exceeding $32,000. A MS67 set will sell in excess of $3,000 and a MS66 set will sell in excess of $2,000. While the prices seem high for a coin found in circulation, one must remember that grade is the key factor in their desirability.
Regardless of what caused the variety, it turned a generic State Quarter into the most desired in the series to date. With the variety being added to the Red Book, it has established itself as a piece that will be collected and desired for many years to come.