CoinWeek Staff Reports…..
Note: This coin sold for $2,137.50.
A top-population 1981-S Lincoln cent Type 1 (PCGS PR70DCAM) is currently drawing strong interest from collectors at a GreatCollections Certified Coin Auctions sale. With less than three days to go, the lot has received 20 bids and reached a price of $1,651 ($2,063.75 with Buyer’s Premium). It is almost certain to exceed this number in the days to come. How does this bid stack up against prior public sales of the coin
Let’s find out.
A Thousand Dollar 1981-S Lincoln Cent?
Hard to imagine, but it’s true… and to understand why this is the case, let’s drill down deep into the market value of the 1981 Proof set and what sets this particular example apart.
In 1981, the United States Mint issued its annual Proof Set, containing one example of each denomination of the country’s circulating coins, from denominations of one cent to one dollar. These coins were produced at the San Francisco Mint and bear the “S” mintmark. They were also struck using a meticulous process and each coin differs from the coins one will generally find in change due to their highly reflective fields and frosty white cameo devices.
These sets were sold to collectors at an issue price of $11 (approximately $31.86 adjusted for inflation) and today carry a market value of approximately $10. That is $10 for a sight-unseen set in its original government packaging with no premium being paid for superior quality. Sold in this way, the 1981 Proof Set was not a big winner as far as numismatic investing is concerned.
But when one considers the quality of each individual coin, the 1981 Proof Set takes on a different character.
In this circumstance, collectors are less concerned with the integrity of the set in its original packaging as issued but instead look at the coins on the basis of the strike, color, clarity, and freedom from marks, spots, or any other distracting features.
To cater to this side of the market, these sets are split up and individual coins are graded on a scale of 0-70 (with the typical coin, carefully removed from government packaging, earning a grade between 65 and 70, with 70 being “perfect”).
Most modern issues typically grade between 69-70, but given the vintage of the 1981 Proof Set and the highly reactive nature of our one-cent coin, it is quite unusual to find perfect coins.
The 1981-S Lincoln cent offered for sale in this GreatCollections auction is one sixteen examples that have been graded PR70DCAM by PCGS. This low number is significant when one considers that at the time this article was written, the service had graded 3,866 1981-S cents PR69DCAM, 247 1981-S cents PR68DCAM, and 177 in the grade PR67DCAM. A majority, if not all of these coins, were presorted for quality and represent what the submitters felt was a coin worthy of the expense of encapsulation.
The first 1981-S cents certified PR70DCAM by PCGS was submitted as part of a large bulk submission of Proof Lincoln cents in 2001. That submission contained eight perfect 70 1981-S cents in total. Today, that order’s 70 1981-S cent yield accounts for more than half of the population. But what’s even more remarkable about that order was that it contained not only multitudes of top pop 1981-S cents, but also perfect cents from other dates as well.
In fact, taking into account today’s certified population of perfect 1980s Lincoln cents, this bulk submission is also responsible for 48.2% of the 70 population of the 1980-S, 42.9% of the 70 population of the 1982-S, 41.5% of the 70 population of the 1983-S, 21.8% of the 70 population of the 1984-S, 20.4% of the 70 population of the 1985-S, and 16.5% of the 70 population of the 1986-S. This was quite a successful submission and it is significant in that it is single-handedly responsible for making the market in late-date modern Lincon cent Proofs.
The first coins from this submission to appear at public auction were sold in January 2002 by Heritage Auctions. These were cents in the grade of PR69DCAM.
In 2003, we saw the sale of the first of the 1981-S Lincoln cent in PR70DCAM, which brought a record price of $8,050.00 (cert#7706756).
One year later, in January 2004, collector John Troy split up his #1 PCGS Registry Set and saw his example, still a population 8 coin, bring a drastically reduced sum of $2,990.00 (cert#7706754).
In December of that year, the third PR70DCAM (cert#7706750) from this submission brought $1,726.15 at Heritage’s Dallas Signature Sale. This coin currently resides in the Stewart Blay Collection.
In 2005, the price for modern Proofs in ultra grades seemed to have recovered somewhat, and in July at Heritage’s ANA sale, the Troy example sold again, this time realizing a price of $3,737.50.
The next public auction record for a 1981-S Type 1 Lincoln Cent in PCGS PR70DCAM took place in June 2013, when GreatCollections offered an example that was graded from a different submission. This submission included a number of Proof issues from 1981, but yielded only one “perfect” 1981-S cent, raising the total population to nine. That example realized $3,850 (cert#26556467).
A third example from the original eight appeared at Heritage’s August 2013 sale. realizing $4112.50 (cert#7706751). Two more examples were offered on eBay, one in 2015 (cert#unknown), which sold for $2999,99 and the other (cert#82655753), sold in 2017 for $3,557.
The GreatCollections example currently for sale is from a modern coin submission different from those that yielded the cents that previously sold. Of the 284 participating sets in the PCGS Set Registry for Proof Memorial Cents, only four collections report having an example of this date in PR70DCAM. Those that do are major named sets, known to most serious collectors of modern coins. One of those sets is owned by mega-collector D.L. Hansen, owner of the Mickley-Hawn-Queller 1804 dollar.
So what is the 1981-S cent in PR70DCAM worth? With so few sales and such a wide dispersal of data, it’s very hard to say. Clearly, the floor is likely well over a $1,650 and the recent trend has been between $3,500 and $4,000. With four days to go, we’ll have the opportunity to add another data point to our dataset and one collector will make a serious commitment towards the building of a “perfect’ modern Proof cent collection.