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1918 Lincoln Cent : A Collector’s Guide

1918 Lincoln Cent. Image: Stack's Bowers / CoinWeek.
1918 Lincoln Cent. Image: Stack’s Bowers / CoinWeek.

By Charles Morgan and Hubert Walker for CoinWeek Notes …..

Lincoln cents were in short supply as the United States entered its second year of war in Europe. Increased wartime economic activity drove up demand for circulating coinage, resulting in larger mintages. The more than 288 million cents produced at the Philadelphia Mint in 1918–the largest mintage in the series up to that point–were fairly well-struck and can still be found in circulation more than a century after their issuance.

The United States Mint’s 1918 Annual Report explained the increased production:

“The unprecedented demand for fractional coin is doubtless due to war activities – general acceleration of business transactions requiring more frequent settlements; larger earnings of the people, resulting in more expenditures; demands of camp activities, etc. Internal revenue taxes on amusement entrance fees and on numerous other services as well as increased street car fares and additions to other prices, required many 1-cent pieces.”

But 1918 Lincoln cents are notable for more than their large mintage and the historical backdrop against which they were struck. The initials of the coin’s designer, sculptor Victor David Brenner, had been removed in mid-1909 but now reappeared on this issue. Brenner, a Litvak or Lithuanian Jew, emigrated to America in 1890 and by the first decade of the 20th century was established as a successful artist. The New York Times dubbed him “the leading medalist in America” in 1904.

Many observers, including Mint officials, felt that Brenner’s initials were too large and their placement too prominent, prompting Secretary of the Treasury Franklin MacVeagh to order them removed after the new cent had entered production, resulting in a popular collectible subtype, 1909 VDB cents.

A number of numismatists spoke up on Brenner’s behalf. Farran Zerbe, President of the American Numismatic Association (ANA) from when the controversy unfolded, wrote: “In the removal of the marks to identify the designer of the Lincoln cent a great injustice has been done [sic] sculptor-artist Victor D. Brenner.” Members of the New York Numismatic Club wrote to MacVeagh on Brenner’s behalf in 1909, arguing that “placing the initials of the designer upon a coin is a time-honored custom,” and implored the Secretary to restore his initials.

The death of Charles Barber, Chief Engraver of the U.S. Mint, may have paved the way for the restoration of Brenner’s initials. At the height of the controversy surrounding his initials, Brenner and Mint officials had proposed shortening the offending initials to a simple “B”. According to David Lange in his Complete Guide to Lincoln Cents (2005), this “did not sit well” with Barber, whose initials were rendered similarly on the coins he designed. “It was almost certainly no mere coincidence that the restoration of Brenner’s initials to his coin occurred in the year following Barber’s death,” Lange writes. VDB returned to the cent, placed at the truncation of Lincoln’s bust on the obverse, in 1918.

The return of Brenner’s initials was not met with much fanfare; Farran Zerbe didn’t notice the restoration until 1922.

How Much is the 1918 Lincoln Cent Worth?

The 1918 Lincoln cent’s massive mintage translates into a large surviving population. At the time of writing, PCGS records 336 grading events for Brown Lincoln cents, 644 Red and Brown, and 899 in Red. NGC records fewer grading events: 185 Brown, 365 Red and Brown, and 193 Red. Examples in the finest grades are elusive and expensive, but most Mint State coins are affordable especially Brown or Red and Brown examples.

Mint State 1918 Lincoln Cent
Mint State 1918 Lincoln Cent

Enough 1918 Lincoln cents were struck that heavily worn examples can still be found in circulation or rolls. Circulated examples can be bought for a dollar or less from almost any coin dealer.

Examples in lower Mint State Brown and Red Brown grades regularly sell for less than $50, while fully Red examples in low-to-mid Mint State grades sell for between $50 and $500. Values cross the $1,000 threshold in MS-66 to MS-66+. One grading event for an MS-68 example is recorded by PCGS; four coins are recorded in MS-67 holders from NGC. These coins routinely sell for thousands or tens of thousands of dollars.

The record auction price for a 1918 Lincoln cent ($55,200) was realized on April 5th, 2022, for a coin certified MS-68 Red by PCGS.

Strike quality for 1918 Lincoln cents is fairly good, though many examples exhibit some die wear. But check for carbon spots, which may appear on some coins. Lange claims the 1918 “seems more susceptible than most to unpleasant spotting on otherwise choice and gem coins.”

Market Data & Noteworthy Specimens

The 1918 Lincoln cent is scarcer in high grades than the 1916, the 1917, and the 1919 Philadelphia Lincoln cents. In Mint State Red, however, it’s more common than either the 1918-D or the 1918-S, which are scarce; the 1918-S is unknown in grades above MS65+RD.

PCGS’ MS68RD population was one in June 2004. At that time, the PCGS MS67RD population was eight. By 2010, the PCGS MS67RD population sat at just nine. The certified population of MS67RD coins have increased nearly four-fold since. The population in MS68RD as of 4/2023, is now two.

NGC has graded just over 200 examples of the issue in all Mint State Red grades, with only four examples in MS67RD at the top of their census.

Top Population: PCGS MS68RD (3, 2/2024), NGC MS67RD (4, 2/2024), and CAC MS68RD (1:0, 2/2024)

  • PCGS MS68RD CMQ #48374151: Stack’s Bowers, March 26, 2024, Lot 4023 – View.
  • PCGS MS68RD #47950000: As PCGS MS67+RD CAC #46215100. GreatCollections, April 2, 2023, Lot 1340034 – $16,322.62. As PCGS MS68RD #4795000. Heritage Auctions, July 20, 2023, Lot 3018 – $78,000.
  • PCGS MS68RD CAC #9726591: “Stewart Blay’s Red Copper Collection of Lincoln Cents”, GreatCollections, January 15, 2023, Lot 1272835, $66,921.75.
  • PCGS MS68RD #44355702: Stack’s Bowers, April 5, 2022, Lot 3017 – $55,200.
  • PCGS MS67+RD #37195761: GreatCollections, September 1, 2019, Lot 723449 – $5,512.50.
  • PCGS MS67+RD #25253371: Heritage Auctions, November 6, 2014, Lot 3588 – $17,625. Cut on front base of N, toning spot above ES in STATES.
  • PCGS MS67RD #50031016: Heritage Auctions, July 28, 2005, lot 10114 – $13,800; “Anne Kate Collection”, Stack’s Bowers, August 15, 2018, lot 501 – $5,760.
  • PCGS MS67RD CAC #15601116: Heritage Auctions, January 7, 2010 – $13,800.
  • PCGS MS67RD: Stack’s Bowers, June 23, 2004, lot 2340 – $12,650; Heritage Auctions, January 5, 2006, lot 3089 – $17,250. Spot between O and N and another between N and E on reverse, tiny spot in space above 1 and 9 on date.
  • PCGS MS67RD #02732036: Heritage Auctions, May 4, 2005, lot 5327 – $14,950. Ex: Tom Mershon Collection (on label).

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Design

Obverse:

The obverse of the 1918 Lincoln cent features a right-facing bust of the 16th President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln. The date 1918 appears to the right of Lincoln and the national motto IN GOD WE TRUST appears above the president. To the left is the word LIBERTY.

Reverse:

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, the bottom arm of the E extending beyond the arm at the top. The middle arm is recessed. Beneath, in the same font but in a smaller type: UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.

Edge:

The edge of the 1918 Lincoln Cent is plain or smooth, without lettering or reeding.

Designer

Lithuanian-born coin designer Victor David Brenner is best known for his iconic design for the Lincoln Cent (1909-Present) (View Designer’s Profile).

Coin Specifications

Country:  United States
Year Of Issue:  1918
Denomination:  One Cent (USD)
Mint Mark:  None (Philadelphia)
Mintage:  288,104,634
Alloy:  95% Copper, 5% Tin and Zinc
Weight:  3.11 grams
Diameter:  19.00 mm
Edge  Plain
OBV Designer  Victor David Brenner
REV Designer  Victor David Brenner
Quality:  Business Strike

 

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CoinWeek Notes
CoinWeek Notes
CoinWeek Notes presents expert analysis and insights from Charles Morgan and Hubert Walker, the award-winning editors of CoinWeek.com.

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