At the height of the Great Depression and resulting from the dramatic decline in the public’s demand for coins, the Denver Mint’s operations nearly ground to a halt. This resulted in an 88.8% drop in mintage figures for the Lincoln Cent, from over 40 million pieces to almost 4.5 million coins. Adding to this initial contraction in production, many of the cents struck in 1931 remained in Treasury Department vaults for several years. When the pieces were finally released in 1934 and 1935, collectors quickly snapped them up, making the 1931-D Lincoln Cent a semi-key date for the series. The United States Mint even advertised in The Numismatist in 1934.
This hoarding, which happened towards the end of the Depression, was part of an early 20th-century trend towards the democratization of coin collecting.
At the time, most people could not afford to put away any high-value coins, but almost everyone could afford to put away a few pennies. Despite being “long overshadowed” by the 1931-S, the 1931-D is actually harder to find. In fact, there are over five times the number of graded and authenticated 1931-S cents than 1931-Ds. PCGS has graded and certified more Mint State S-Mint coins alone than the entire combined PCGS and NGC populations of the Denver issue.
Interestingly, ANA president Mr. Loyd Gettys wrote in a 1947 letter to the Numismatic Scrapbook Magazine that shortly after World War II, the 1931-D “catalog[ed] at $3 and the 31S at $1.35” (The Commemorative Trail, 1993). This shows how later perception of rarity can greatly influence prices.
The 1931-D Lincoln Cent in Today’s Market
Compounding the already very small mintage, hoarding, and loss due to circulation, there are not many surviving examples. Both grading services report only 2,978 surviving examples in all grades and color designations, with the highest-grade being MS 67. PCGS reports two in MS 67 RD, one in MS 66 BN, 13 in MS 66 RB, and 65 in MS 66 RD. NGS reports two in MS 67 RD, eight in MS 66 BN, 11 in MS 66 RB, and eight in MS 66 RD. Collectively, this gives a total of four MS 67s and 106 MS 66s. This, however, is almost certainly an overcount, and according to the PCGS Price Guide, there are probably only 50 surviving examples in MS 66.
Coins in MS 66 vary greatly in price due to their color designation, with Red (RD) examples selling for as much as $10,000 but going for an average price of $4,000. Red Brown (RB) examples are worth around $1,200, and Brown (BN) specimens sell for approximately $500. While there is a significant drop in price when the grade goes from MS 66 to MS 65, the largest drop is with the RD-designated pieces. Fully RD examples lose between 50% and 60% of their price; RB pieces lose between 30% and 50%; and BN coins lose 25% and 30% of their value.
MS 64, being the most common grade with 293 pieces graded by PCGS and 304 by NGC (or 20% of the total population), sell for $350 to $500 in RD, approximately $200 in RB, and $100 to $150 in BN. The lowest graded RD, a XF 45, is worth around $15. At the same time, the lowest graded RB example, an MS 62, is worth between $40 and $70.
High AU-graded BN pieces are worth $25 to $50, yet they sink to $15 in VF. In Fine (F) grades, collectors can find examples priced between $5 and $10, and in the very low grades, pieces are worth $0.50 to $2.50.
Designer Victor David Brenner’s portrait of the beloved former president Abraham Lincoln depicts the president from the shoulder up. Lincoln is dressed in a period suit and is wearing a bow tie. Brenner’s initials “V.D.B.” appear in Lincoln’s shoulder truncation. At the top of the design, wrapping around the rim is the motto “IN GOD WE TRUST”. “LIBERTY” appears behind Lincoln’s neck, on the left side of the coin. The date 1931 appears slightly lower, in front of Lincoln’s portrait, on the coin’s right side. The mint mark “D” appears below the date.
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 letters, sans serif, the bottom arm of the E extends beyond the arm at the top. The middle arm is recessed. Beneath, in the same font but in smaller type, is the legend UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.
The edge of the 1931-D Lincoln cent is smooth or plain, without lettering or reeding.
Victor David Brenner, born in Lithuania in 1871, immigrated to New York at the age of 19. The classically trained sculptor built a group of clients, which included the future president Theodore Roosevelt. Having previously created a medallion of Lincoln, Brenner was contracted by Roosevelt in 1908 to use one of his previous images of the 16th president for a new design of the cent. At the time of his death, Brenner had carved over 125 different medals, sculptures, and coins (View Designer’s Profile).
|Year Of Issue:||1931|
|Denomination:||One Cent (USD)|
|Mint Mark:||D (Denver)|
|Alloy:||95% Copper, 5% Tin and Zinc|
|OBV Designer||Victor David Brenner|
|REV Designer||Victor David Brenner|
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