The Lincoln cent is the United States’ longest-serving coin. Its 1909 debut marked the centennial of the birth of Abraham Lincoln, and its elegant sculptural design served as the vanguard of a new wave of American coin art.
But while the golden age of American coin design is most associated with medallic artist and sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens, it is the early 20th-century work of Litvak-American sculptor Victor David Brenner that remains in circulation.
Although struck in a denomination that has very little purchasing power, the Lincoln cent is a coin-collecting powerhouse, having driven untold millions of people to enter the coin hobby over the years and it continues to be a cornerstone series for new collectors.
As is the case with many coin series, collecting Lincoln cents can be as simple or as complex as a collector wants to make it. A simplified view of the Lincoln cent series divides it into five major types:
- The “Wheat” cent of 1909-1958;
- The “Memorial” cent of 1959-1982;
- The “Zincoln” cent of 1983-2008;
- The four Bicentennial of Lincoln’s Birth commemorative reverse designs of 2009; and
- The “Shield” reverse of 2010-present.
For many, collecting Lincoln cents by date and mintmark is sufficient. Penny boards and coin albums have long proved popular methods of conveying the completeness of a collection.
Collectors interested in digging deeper than simply having one of each date and mintmark may consider a host of challenging collecting possibilities. Variety collectors can seek out hundreds of collectible doubled dies, repunched mintmarks, and mint errors in the series, while quality-conscious collectors might attempt to complete the United States’ longest-running coin series in high grade. When venturing down these two paths, it’s best to arm oneself with up-to-date market information and work with professionals when questions of authenticity and condition rarity are encountered.
The 1911-D Cent in Particular
The 1911-D cent is the first minor coin struck at the Denver Mint. With dies supplied by the Philadelphia Mint, the first examples were struck on May 20 of that year. By the year’s end, the Denver Mint had produced 12,672,000 one-cent coins–nearly three times the output of the San Francisco Mint but a fraction of the gargantuan output of cents churned out at Philadelphia.
As an important first-year issue, the 1911-D cent does have a following. In A Guide Book of Lincoln Cents (Bowers Series 9), author Q. David Bowers states that the coin is scarce in Mint State though this may be an insight that the hobby overall has yet to accept. It is certainly clear by the large mintage that circulated examples are not difficult to procure.
Most 1911 Lincoln cents produced in Denver were weakly struck, and therefore well-struck, Mint State specimens in Full Red are even more scarce. PCGS reports a total of 261 cents graded MS-65 RD and higher, with a top pop of two pieces graded MS-67. Populations for BN and RB coins at MS-65 and above are actually lower, but this speaks to the fact that the 1911-D is a popular coin to cherrypick.
NGC reports only 32 examples graded MS-65 RD and higher, with a top pop of one coin graded MS-67. A similar cherry-picking dynamic plays out, but with smaller numbers than those listed at PCGS.
Prices realized in recent years for PCGS-certified Full Red 1911-D cents average around $750 for MS-65 and about $1,200 for MS-66. A top-pop example sold for $42,000 in March of this year, and the other MS-67 coin sold for $61,688 in September of 2018.
Prices for Full Red High Mint State NGC coins in recent years are interesting. MS-65 sees a similar average to PCGS, while in MS-66 NGC-certified examples have been selling for around $3,000 – almost twice as much as PCGS-certified 66s. There are no auction records for NGC MS-67 RD 1911-D Lincoln cents at the time of writing.
The obverse of the 1911-D Lincoln cent features a right-facing bust of President Abraham Lincoln. The date 1911 appears to the right of Lincoln and the national motto IN GOD WE TRUST appears above the president. Below the date is the mint mark “D” for the Denver Mint. To the left of the 16th president is the word LIBERTY.
Brenner’s “Wheat Cent” reverse. Two sheaths of wheat wrap around the right and the left side of the coin. At the top of the design, the motto “E · PLURIBUS · UNUM” wraps around the rim. ONE CENT is inscribed in large sans serif letters, with the bottom arm of the E extending beyond the arm at the top. The middle arm is recessed. Beneath, in the same font but a smaller type, is the legend UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.
The edge of the 1911-D Lincoln cent is smooth or plain.
Lithuanian-born coin designer Victor David Brenner is best known for his iconic design for the Lincoln cent (1909-Present) (View Designer’s Profile).
|Year Of Issue:||1911|
|Mint Mark:||D (Denver)|
|Alloy:||95% Copper, 5% Tin and Zinc|
|OBV Designer||Victor David Brenner|
|REV Designer||Victor David Brenner|
Want to learn more about Lincoln cents?
CoinWeek recommends Q. David Bowers’ excellent A Guide Book of Lincoln Cents, published by our friends at Whitman Publishing.
This third edition features revised pricing data, updated population reports, copious illustrations, and the kind of unique insights you can only get from the “Dean of American Numismatics”.
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