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.
The 1918 Lincoln Cent in the Collector Market
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.
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 an example certified MS-68 Red by PCGS.
Strike quality for 1918 Lincoln cents is fairly good, though many examples exhibit some die wear. But be sure to check for carbon spots, which appear on some coins. Lange claims that the 1918 “seems more susceptible than most to unpleasant spotting on otherwise choice and gem coins.”
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.
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.
The edge of the 1918 Lincoln cent is plain or smooth, without lettering or reeding.
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:||1918|
|Denomination:||One Cent (USD)|
|Mint Mark:||None (Philadelphia)|
|Alloy:||95% Copper, 5% Tin and Zinc|
|OBV Designer||Victor David Brenner|
|REV Designer||Victor David Brenner|
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