PHILADELPHIA (AP) - An unknown number of new George Washington dollar coins were mistakenly struck without their edge inscriptions, including "In God We Trust," and are fetching around $50 apiece online.
The properly struck dollar coins, bearing the likeness of the nation's first president, are inscribed along the edge with "In God We Trust," "E Pluribus Unum" and the year and mint mark. They made it past inspectors and went into circulation Feb. 15.
The U.S. Mint struck 300 million of the coins, which are golden in color and slightly larger and thicker than a quarter.
About half were made in Philadelphia and the rest in Denver. So far the mint has only received reports of error coins coming from Philadelphia, mint spokeswoman Becky Bailey said.
Bailey said it was unknown how many coins lacked the inscriptions. Ron Guth, president of Professional Coin Grading Service, one of the world's largest coin authentication companies, said he believes that at least 50,000 error coins were put in circulation.
"The first one sold for $600 before everyone knew how common they actually were," he said. "They're going for around $40 to $60 on eBay now, and they'll probably settle in the $50 range."
Production of the presidential dollar entails a "new, complex, high-volume manufacturing system" that the mint will adjust to eliminate any future defects, the mint said in a statement.
"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," the statement said.
Guth said it appeared from the roughly 50 smooth-edge dollars he has authenticated that the problem had to do with quality control rather than a mechanical error.
"These coins are struck like normal coins, then they go through another machine that adds edge lettering in another process. These apparently skipped that process," he said. "We've seen a couple of instances where the edge lettering may be weak or indistinct, but we're not talking about that here."
The coin's design has already spurred e-mail conspiracy theories claiming that the religious motto was purposely omitted. That rumor may have started because the edge lettering cannot be seen in head-on photographs of the coin.
It is the first U.S. coin to have words stamped around the edge since the storied 1933 $20 gold "double eagle," among the rarest and most valuable in the world. In 2002, a 1933 double eagle was sold for $7.59 million - the highest price ever paid for a coin.
The Washington dollars are the first in a series of presidential coins slated to run until 2016. After Washington, the presidents to be honored on dollar coins this year will be John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison.
The 215-year-old Philadelphia mint, located downtown on Independence Mall, employs about 500 people and last year produced about 7.8 billion coins. The overwhelming majority of error coins are caught by inspectors and melted down.
Bailey said the striking of the Adams coin, expected to roll out in mid-May, will proceed as planned.