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Key Date Lincoln Cents

 

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Lincoln Cents For Sale

History of the Lincoln Cent

Incredibly, from 1909 through 2013, over 478 billion pennies have been minted.  Yes, that is over four hundred billion, as in billion with a "B".  Darn near 1/2 a trillion.    That is roughly 1,507 pennies per each US Citizen.  If you have a jar, can, piggy bank, no doubt you have your share.  More cents are produced than any other denomination.  The lifespan of the Lincoln cent has spanned two world wars, several other wars, the first commercial jet flight, trips to the moon, Y2K and the invention of nearly everything we use today and take for granted.  Yes, that little penny has been around for nearly 100 years and has seen a few changes such as changes in its design and changes in the metal content.

How did this design, the staple of our pocket change come about?  Way back in 1908, Victor D Brenner began designing a medal of Theodore Roosevelt marking the construction of the Panama Canal.  Brenner had earlier created a plaque of Lincoln using a February 9th, 1864 photograph as the model.  When Roosevelt saw the plaque of Lincoln, he was impressed. Brenner confided to the president that he was a great admirer of Lincoln and suggested that a portrait of Lincoln should be put on a U.S. coin.  Although George Washington and Lincoln had appeared on pattern issues of the 1860s, as of 1908 no American president, or real person, had ever appeared on a coin made for regular circulation.  The timing was right as Roosevelt had previously commissioned Augustus Saint-Gaudens in 1907 to redesign all American coinage including the Indian Head penny which had been around for nearly 50 years.  Unfortunately Saint-Gaudens died that summer.  Thus Roosevelt was open to ideas from other artists and was intrigued by the idea of using Lincoln on the cent and also coincided with his desire to honor his fellow Republican (it was all politics back then also) and the 100 year anniversary of his birth and consequently asked Brenner to submit a design.  Brenner choose the penny as the coin to honor Lincoln as he felt it was appropriate to honor the “people’s” president on the most common coin.  Originally, the design for the reverse was the same pattern as a French two-franc coin and had “United States of America” across the top of the reverse with his name “BRENNER” in small letters across the bottom. 

The design was immediately rejected by Mint officials as they did not like the use of a design identical to a French coin. They also did not like Brenner’s name being prominently displayed on the coin. They advised him to use only his initials as was common on other coins. Brenner redesigned the reverse with two stalks of wheat, the words ONE CENT over United States of America and his initials “VDB” on the bottom and the national motto, E PLURIBUS UNUM, which means "One out of Many" circling the top.   Brenner’s design did not originally include the phrase “In God We Trust” despite the fact that the Congress passed the Act on March 3, 1865, authorizing the use of this expression on our coins during Lincoln's tenure of office.  William Taft succeeded Roosevelt as president before the penny went into production and refused to approve the design without it. 

Even though no legislation was required for a new design, approval of the Treasury Secretary was necessary to make the change.  Franklin MacVeagh gave his approval July 14, 1909 and it was announced to the public that a new one-cent coin would be available in the middle of the year to commemorate the 100 year anniversary of Lincoln’s birth.  About three weeks later, on August 2nd, the new cent was released to the public.  

This was the first ever U.S. coin that would be released that would contain a real person on the picture.  As such, there was much controversy as some people felt that putting a real person on a coin was too similar to the European monarchies.  Others felt that a man of Lincoln’s importance belonged on a hire denomination coin than a penny.  Mint employees were upset that a coin was designed by a mint outsider. 

With all the controversy, the demand for the new penny only grew.  On official release day, people stood in lines to get their first new penny and in many places the coins had to be rationed.  The entire supply of cents was gone in 7 days.  This initial release contained 27,996,194 1909 VDB and the now scare and key date Lincoln, the 1909 S VDB, that had1909 VDB Lincoln Cent a mintage of only 404,000.  The supply ran dry because only after two days after the official release, on August 4, 1909, production was stopped by order of the Treasury Secretary Franklin MacVeigh. 

Although MacVeigh had earlier approved the design, he told reporters that he did not know that Brenner’s initials were to appear on the coin and that he was only reacting to widespread public criticism. Many people objected to the size of the letters that Brenner had placed just above the rim on the reverse of the coin.  Brenner was angry and threatened to sue as the initials and even full names of other designers had appeared on many previous coins, but there is no indication that he ever followed through on this threat. A suggestion was made to put just the initial “B” on the coin but this was met with fierce resistance by Charles Barber who did not want Brenner’s work confused with his own. MacVeigh also claimed that it was cheaper and faster to remove the initials from the hub and leave the die alone. Thus, Brenner’s initials were taken off the coin.  They did not reappear on the penny until 1918 after the death of Charles Barber. However, the initials were put on Lincoln’s shoulder in letters so small that it can barely be seen without magnification. Although there is no hard proof, many believe that anti-Semitism played a large role in the outcry over Brenner’s initials on the Lincoln cent.

In 1943, the cent would again see a dramatic change although not to its design, due to shortages of copper caused by the war.  At the time of World War II, the one-cent coin was composed of 95 percent copper and 5 percent zinc. These metals were denied to the1943 Steel Cent Mint for the duration of the war, making it necessary for the Mint to seek a substitute material. After much deliberation, even including consideration of plastics, zinc-coated steel was chosen as the best in a limited range of suitable materials and the steel cent was born.

Production of the war-time cent was provided for in an Act of Congress approved on December 18, 1942, which also set as the expiration date of the authority December 31, 1946. Low-grade carbon steel formed the base of these coins, to which a zinc coating .005 inch thick was deposited on each side electrolytically as a rust preventative. The same size was maintained, but the weight was reduced from the standard 48 grains to 42 grains, due to the use of a lighter alloy. Production commenced on February 27, 1943, and by December 31, 1943, the three Mint facilities had produced 1,093,838,670 of the one-cent coins. The copper released for the war effort was enough to meet the combined needs of 2 cruisers, 2 destroyers, 1,243 flying fortresses, 120 field guns and 120 howitzers, or enough for 1.25 million shells four our big field guns.  These pennies are sometimes referred to as silver pennies due to their color when in new/AU/BU condition.

On January 1, 1944, the Mint was able to adopt a modified alloy, the supply being derived from expended shell casing which when melted furnished a composition similar to the original, but with a faint trace of tin. The original weight of 48 grains was also restored.  You may see many ads for these cents called war pennies.

In 1955, we saw the last of the “S” mint marked wheat pennies.  The San Francisco mint ceased minting “S” minted coins of cents and dimes for general circulation at the end of that year.  The nickel, quarter and half dollar ceased the year before.  It would not be for another 13 years (1968) before “S” mint coins were produced for general circulation.

1959 marked the 50th anniversary of the Lincoln cent and the reverse was changed to what is now the current design, the Lincoln Memorial.  On February 12, 1959, the new design was introduced as a part of the 150th anniversary celebration of Lincoln’s birth.  Frank Gasparro, the Assistant Engraver at the Mint in Philadelphia, prepared the winning entry, selected from a group of 23 models the engraving staff at the Mint had been askedLincoln Memorial Centto present for consideration. Since the cent had been in circulation for over 25 years, only the Treasury Secretary's approval was necessary.  The imposing marble Lincoln Memorial in the Nation's Capital provides the central motif; the legends E PLURIBUS UNUM and UNITED STATES OF AMERICA form the rest of the design, together with the denomination. Mr. Gasparro's initials, FG, appear on the right, near the shrubbery.

In 1962, the penny underwent another change, although small.  Mint officials decided to drop tin from the content of the Lincoln cent, because there were manufacturing cost advantages to a stable alloy of 95 percent copper and five percent zinc. This time, however, there was no particular interest because the change was not readily notice even though technically the Lincoln cent became brass, not bronze.

In 1964, due to the announcement that silver would not longer be the major component of dimes, quarters and half dollars, there was a severe coin shortage for circulation.  Although Lincoln cents were not the problem, government officials decided to not place mint marks on all coins in 1965.  This continued for 2 more years (1966 and 1967), with the idea that this would keep collectors from hoarding all the coins needed for circulation.  Some coins dated 1964 were actually produced 1965.  Finally in 1968, mint marks were returned and the beloved “S” mint returned to circulation. The return of the “S” would be short-lived however.  Unlike cents of earlier years with “S” mint marks, the cents of 1968-1974 would be produced in the multi-millions with a total number of “S” minted coins from this period totaling over three billion.  Yes, that is billion. Still, it was a welcome change.

The price of precious metals in the 1980’s was out of control and copper was no exception which took its toll on the Lincoln cent in 1982.  The composition was changed to an alloy of 99.2 percent zinc and 0.8 percent copper, plated by pure copper resulting in a total composition of 97.5 percent zinc and 2.5 percent copper. 

So what does the future hold for the Lincoln cent? Legislation was recently passed authorized a plethora of coin changes.  One of those changes included the cent.  The Lincoln cent Title III to the Presidential Dollar Coin Act calls for the elimination of the Lincoln Memorial reverse to be replaced with four different designs depicting the life of Lincoln.  In the text of the law the new reverses are referred to as “(A) his birth and early childhood in Kentucky; (B) his formative years in Indiana; (C) his professional life in Illinois; and (D) is presidency, in Washington D.C.”   These changes would appear in 2009.

In addition to these circulating designs, the legislation also says, “The Secretary of the Treasury shall issue 1-cent coins in 2009 with the exact metallic content as the 1-cent coin contained in 1909 in such number as the Secretary determines to be appropriate for numismatic purposes.”  Will this be a fifth design or a wheat cent?  Who knows?  It will be a coin struck as proof or uncirculated as non-circulating legal tender.   

For 2010 and beyond, the legislation states, “The design on the reverse of the 1-cent coins issued after December 31st, 2009 shall bear an image emblematic of President Lincoln’s preservation of the United  States of America as a single and united country.”  This could be an unspecified design or could revert back to the Lincoln Memorial.  Since this is several years away, no decision on this appears to be immanent. One question that does appear to be answered is that the cent will continue to be produced despite some calls for its discontinuance.  Many believe the penny is no longer useful and should fade away much like the cent.

Please note, if you see any errors or have other facts to contribute, please contact me.

More Fun Penny Facts

Lincoln Cent Collectibility

 General

Perhaps no other denomination gets as much abuse today as the cent yet, it is typically the starting point for all young collectors.  Why?  Because it is typically the most inexpensive series to collect when considering almost 50 years of Memorial pennies and that the 1941 to 1959 set can be had in circulated condition for less than $20.00.  Do not be fooled though, early Lincolns can be priced far beyond many collectors budgets.  A good way to begin collecting Lincoln cents is to search your change.  Yes, you can still find a wheat penny now and then.  Can’t wait or want to get your kids started?  The best way, and an incredibly wonderful family event would be to buy several rolls of wheats, sit down with your kids with a few Whitman Folders and have at it.  For the best deal, and loads of entertainment, you can buy a bag of 5000 pennies for less than $250.00, or some smaller portion for hours of fun.  

In case you wanted to know, here is my opinion about “unsearched bags”.  There is no such thing as an unsearched bag of Wheats, unless you happen across a hoard where the hoarder stopped hoarding in 1958.  The sorting process of separating Wheats from Memorials implies some sort of search.  At Mountain View Coins, we guarantee, that we have not searched our Wheat lots for dates, errors, etc.  We sell them as we get them as it is way to time consuming for us.  Many people buy bags of “unsearched Wheats” with hopes of landing the big one.  The 1909-s VDB.  Frankly, the odds are stacked against you.  To shed some light on this, let’s do the math.  From 1909 to 1958, there were 25,789,366,877 wheat pennies produced.  Yes, over 25 Billion.  The 1909-S VDB had a mintage of 484,000.  That is less than million.  That means statistically, for every 53,284 wheats you look at, one might be a 1909-S VDB.  You would have to search over 10 bags of Wheats.  Again, this is statistically what you would expect.  Now here is the reality.  The 1909-S VDB was recognized long, long ago, 1909 in fact, that this coin would be a rarity and it was plucked from circulation right away.  Still, it has been documented, that this coin will now and then show up in some unsearched hoards.  

The beginning collector can also begin by collecting AU/BU Memorials from circulation.  This would be ideal for the young collector as a challenge to see what nice looking coins can be plucked from circulation.  You can still find pennies over 10 years old that are bright red and nearly uncirculated.  I would imagine as people cash in their jars of pennies that have been sitting around for years that this will continue to be the case for years to come. 

Key/Semi Key Dates  

As with most series, coins minted at the San Francisco Mint typically are harder to come by as there mintages are generally lower than the other Mints (Denver and Philadelphia).  The Lincoln series is no exception as 3 of the 4 primary keys contain the coveted “S” mark.  The chart below clearly demonstrates the percentage of “S” mint coins is low compared to “P” and “D”.  The data reflects coins produced for circulation, thus, proof mintage is not included.  While the reality is that there were several billion, yes billion, cents produced with the “S” mint mark, this is small in comparison to the over 400 billion total cents produced.  Please note, cents with an “S” mint have not been produced for circulation for over 30 years.  During the Memorial time period, “S” produced cents for circulation numbered only a few years in the late 60’s and early 70’s.


 

Percent of Production By Mint

 

P

D

S

Percent of PDS 1909 to 1958

54.31%

35.00%

10.69%

Memorial only 1959-2004

50.98%

48.21%

0.81%

Total 1909-2004

51.18%

47.41%

1.41%

 

 

 

As previously mentioned, the key to the series is the 1909-S VDB.  With a mintage of 484,000, it is by far the most widely recognized Lincoln to obtain.  Securing an example of this coin in a low grade such as G or VG will set you back $700-$800.  It is interesting to note, the 1885-O Barber Dime, with a nearly identical mintage (440,000) will set you back only $400.00 in G condition.  Simply put, the demand for the 1909-S VDB has driven up the price further than similarly scare coins.   

The next key of the series is the 1931-s.  This coin had a mintage of 866,000, nearly twice the 1909 S VDB.  This coin is can be had for $60-$80 in G to F condition.    The 1914-D is next in line in terms of low total mintage. 

The 1914 D had a total of 1,193,000 pieces produced.  In G to F condition, this coin will cost $150-$300.  It is interesting to note, that in MS65 condition, this is a $22,000.00 coin while the 1909-S VDB in MS65 is a $7,500.00 coin clearly indicating that in mint-state, 1914-D coins are much rarer than their mintage would suggest as compared to the 1909 S VDB.  This can easily be explained by the fact that in 1909, people lined up to get the new cents to keep for their collections thus preserving many fine specimens for future collectors.  The number of MS65 red examples certified by PCGS clearly makes this point. For the 1909 S VDB examples, there are 701 coins certified in MS65 red condition while the count for similarly graded 1914-D coins in only 31. This is as of February 1, 2006.  

Finally, as far as the “major” keys, the 1909-S (without VDB) completes the list.  With a mintage of 1,825,000 there are plenty of examples to be had, but again, as with the other keys, demand for this coin is high.  A nice example (G-F) can cost you up to $100.00.  With a mintage of nearly 2 million, this coin has far more examples available than higher denominations but sells for far more, simply due to the demand and the number of Lincoln cent collectors out there.  

After the main four keys, there are a number of “scare” dates that may prove difficult to obtain.  The 1910 S, 1911 S, 1912 S, 1914 S, 1915 S, 1922 D, 1924 D and 1926 S would be considered semi-keys.  Each one of these coins would cost you $10-$20 for G examples.  After this group, most coins can be had for $1.00 or less.  A few others such as some of the other early “S” minted coins and the 1931 D will cost you a few bucks more.  Most cents from 1940 on, with the exception of 1943 coins, can be had for $.20 to $.25, making the 2nd volume of Lincolns very affordable. 

Errors/Varieties

 With a series being around for almost 100 years, you would expect that there are a fair number of errors, and indeed there are, far too many to list here but I will attempt to hit some of the more popular ones.   

Errors and varieties for the Lincoln series started right from the beginning in 1909.  In the year 1909 we have a 1909 VDB double die obverse and then a 1909 VDB double die reverse.  Both of these are somewhat rare as PCGS as certified a total of 57 of these.  Also in 1909 from San Francisco, there are a few varieties of horizontal “S” mints.  There are over 400 of these certified by PCGS making this one a little more available.  

In 1917 we again see some doubling with Philadelphia minted coins.  There are only 53 of these certified by PCGS, mostly in higher grades as the doubling is difficult to detect in lower grades.

Perhaps one of them most famous or popular errors, second only to the 1955 double die, is the 1922 no “D”, commonly referred to as the 1922 plain.  In 1922, only Denver made pennies.  It was the only year in the entire series that Philadelphia did not produce cents.  Had Philadelphia made pennies that year, we may have not realized for some time the problem with some 1922 Denver cents.  There are four types/varieties that are currently1922 No D Lincoln Cent recognized for 1922 dated cents.  The first is the regular 1922-D with full mint mark, the second is 1922-D with a weak “D” and a weak reverse.  The third is a 1922 no “D” weak reverse and finally the 1922 no “D” strong reverse.  The 1922 no “D” with strong reverse of the most sought variety and is commonly referred as the “Die pair #2”. 

The different varieties were caused when the mintmark became filled with crud on a worn die.  On the Die #2 varieties, the mint mark was simply worn away or ground off by abrasives.  It is crucial to have this variety certified as many fakes exist.  

Skipping ahead to 1936, we again see another example of doubling from the Philadelphia mint.  There are actually three varieties of this doubling called Type 1, type 2 and Type 3.  There are only 117 examples of this error certified by PCGS (as of Feb 2, 2006) making this quite rare.  Five years later we again have doubling with the 1941 Philadelphia cent.  93 total examples have been certified by PCGS.   

In 1943 we have the 1943 D over D re-punched mint mark and in 1944 we a “D” or “S” mint mark.  Around 150 “D” or “S” have been certified by PCGS and will cost you several hundred dollars in a nice grade.

Perhaps the most popular and famous error is the Philadelphia 1955 double die.  This coin is easy to recognize in almost any grade as the lettering is clearly doubled as you can see by the picture.  PCGS has recognized nearly 1800 of these.  Although the certified population of this coin is higher than most, if not all of the previous examples, this example is in high demand and is priced as such.  A low mint state example (MS60) will cost several thousand dollars while an MS65 in red condition can command $45,000.00.

As the Lincoln cent went under a redesign on the reverse, the variety of errors did not stop.  In 1960, the collector community went into a frenzy with the discovery of small and large dated Lincoln cents.  While prices first escalated, they soon plummeted.  Today, the 1960 P small date is considered the rarest of the group with BU rolls commanding a significant premium over small date Denver rolls and all large date rolls.  

In 1969 we again see an obverse doubling but this time from an “S” minted coin.  Total population from PCGS on this coin is a mere 20 examples and is priced in the $30,000.00 range for MS60 and it only goes up from there for red GEM specimens.  

In 1970 the small date and large date varieties surfaced once again with the small date being more sought after.  1970 even has a rare obverse doubling as does the 1971 cent.  But in 1972 excitement would set in again as a clear double die was discovered.  Although the 1972 double die made national headlines, it did not have the excitement of the 1955, which set the standard.  But the Philadelphia 1972 double die was a clear example of doubling.  Over 2,200 examples have been certified by PCGS.  The prices on these examples are not nearly as high as the 1955 due to demand.  

1983 saw more doubling from the Philadelphia mint.  Unlike 1972, the doubling is hard to detect.  The same holds true for a 1984 doubling variety but in 1995 another clear example of doubling surfaced.  Once again, it does not have the popularity as the 1955.  There are also over 8,000 examples in MS red condition making this readily available.  

One variety and year not touched on yet are the 1943 varieties.  There is a 1943 D/D re-punch that is scare with slightly over 100 examples certified but the rarity that is widely faked are copper 1943 cents.  Since 1943 was the year of the steel cent, there have been documented and certified examples of 1943 cents that were not steel.  It is speculated that some planchets were in the production line when the dies were changed to 1943 creating a few, extremely rare and valuable coins.  There are also a few, again VERY rare, 1944 steel cents.  As with examples this rare, it is best to get your coins authenticated.  

During the nearly 100 year history of the Lincoln cent, there have been many errors and varieties.  Far more than I have listed.  If you are truly into Lincoln varieties, I would suggest purchasing a book.  No doubt, there are many more not yet discovered.

Proofs

 Lincoln Proofs were initially produced from 1909 to 1916.  Coins in this date range were produced with the matte finish.  Collectors of the day, as well as now, prefer the mirror like finish, many of these early proofs were spent into circulation making early proofs quite rare.  A Matte Proof cent is not all that different from a well struck business strike coin.  If you buy a Matte Proof cent, be sure it comes from a reputable source.  The Matte Proof cents already have low mintages, and with many of these being spent, their survival rate was much lower.  Also, the Mint packaged Matte Proofs in thin tissue paper, which soon toned the coins to a brown and/or brown-purple hue.  Matte Proof cents with a good portion of original color or all of its original mint red are very rare.

In 1936, the Mint once again began producing proof coins, this time with the much more desired brilliant finish.  These were produced through 1958 in the Wheat Cent variety and are available in proportion to their mintage as most have survived but most have spotting and/or discoloration.

Proof coinage continued in 1959 with the change in reverse but ceased temporarily in 1965, 1966 and 1967, which also are the same years that cents were NOT produced with any mint marks.

In 1968, proof coinage production began again and has continued to this day uninterrupted.  Proof coins of recent years will only cost you a few bucks where as red beauties from the wheat era can cost thousands of dollars.  There is nothing like a proof coin to see what the coin designer had in mind for the design

Vital Statistics Summary

 Key Coin Info

Wheat Cent

Memorial Copper

Memorial Zinc

 

 

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