By CoinWeek ….
On Sunday, March 1, bidding ended on GreatCollections.com for this 1955 Doubled Die Obverse Lincoln cent, graded MS-65+ RD by PCGS and approved by CAC. After 53 bids, the lucky new owner or owners of the finest known fully red specimen certified by PCGS paid $111,000 USD ($124,875 with Buyer’s Premium) for the opportunity – a world-record price.
Brooking little argument, the 1955 Doubled Die Lincoln Cent is the most significant 20th-century die error in the U.S. series. Unlike some modern die errors that are detectible only with a strong magnifying glass, the doubling on the 1955 doubled die is dramatic and obvious even to one not steeped in numismatic study. With about 20,000 pieces estimated to have entered circulation, it’s no wonder then why this unusual error was an immediate hit for James Ruddy and Q. David Bowers) back when they first popularized the issue. The 1955 doubled die was selling for $7.95 apiece within a few years of the coin’s release, and was bringing upwards of $250 by the 1980s.
After third-party grading revolutionized coin collecting later in the same decade, prices for the 1955 DDO rose dramatically, reaching a peak of nearly $60,000 USD when a particularly strong MS-65 RD example was offered in 2001. This was a considerable sum over the high end of what was then the historic price range, and one might assume that this result represented the belief that the coin might upgrade to MS-66. Those upgrade dreams were never realized, though the current specimen–if it is not the very same coin–is a plus-grade higher and certified as strong for even that grade by CAC.
True Gem pure red 1955 Doubled Dies are exceptionally rare, and recent prices realized for an MS-65 RD Doubled Die Obverse typically fall in the $25,000 and $35,000 range (depending on eye appeal). At the January 2016 FUN Show, an example went for $37,600. Auction records for sales on GreatCollections.com may be searched using the GreatCollections Auction Archives, with records for over 600,000 certified coins the company has sold over the past seven years.
PCGS notes 5,266 grading events for the 1955 Doubled Die in their population report. Of that number, 279 were designated RD (full red). This example is the single MS-65+ graded by PCGS and as such is the finest known with none higher.
Ian Russell, president/owner of GreatCollections said, “This is one of the most famous of U.S. coins and being the single finest, it attracted a lot of attention from serious collectors and dealers over the past few weeks. The winning bidder is a serious Lincoln Cent collector from the East Coast. While we do not disclose individual bidders’ identities, the underbidders could combine to form the who’s who of American numismatics.”
Russell continued, “Over 140 registered bidders were actively tracking the 1955 Doubled Die, and the listing attracted over 6,000 page views – all while the financial markets were having one of their worst weeks in history, proving how immune the rare coin market is to the global stock markets and economy.”
Background of the Lincoln Wheat Cent
Of course, the 1955 DDO is part of the much larger type of Lincoln cent known as the Wheat Reverse or “Wheat” cent (1909-1958).
The Lincoln cent overall has been a favorite of collectors for many years. Part of the appeal lies in the fact that it was the first circulating U.S. coin to feature the likeness of a real person and one of the most respected and admired presidents in this country’s history. First issued in 1909, the Lincoln cent was released in time for the 100th anniversary of Lincoln’s birth.
Another attraction is that, with few exceptions, millions of pieces of the denomination were issued each year. So combined with its low face value, it is a coin that nearly everyone is able to collect, including youngsters and other of modest means. On the other hand, the series contains enough rarities and varieties to hold the interest of the serious numismatist.
And the Lincoln cent is perhaps one of the few coin types whose rarities have become well-known even to those members of the general public who are not collectors. Many who wouldn’t know the difference between Draped Bust and Capped Bust types (and more to the point, probably wouldn’t care) nevertheless have likely heard of the 1909-S VDB and the 1955 Doubled Die Obverse ‘pennies’ – and maybe even the 1943 copper cent and the 1960 Large Date and Small Date varieties.
The first year of the design includes the issues that prominently display on the reverse the initials of the designer, Victor D. Brenner – which caused controversy at the time of release, even though designers initials had previously been placed on U.S. coins. Because those initials were subsequently removed (and then reinstated in a less conspicuous location on the obverse in 1918), the 1909 V.D.B. and 1909-S V.D.B. cents are considered a separate type.
Lincoln cents were made of a bronze alloy in most years, with a couple of variations during the years of World War II. Because copper was a critical war material, cents in 1943 were produced on zinc-coated steel planchets. That resulted in the inadvertent creation of two Lincoln cent rarities, the first being the copper cents dated 1943, and the second being the steel cents dated 1944. From 1944 through 1946, cents were produced from reused shell cases, whose bronze composition was nearly identical to the original issues minus the tin.
Millions of business strike Wheat Lincoln cents were produced almost every year, useful in commerce at the time but today often relegated to “help yourself if needed” cent boxes near business cash registers (for example, a total of almost 331 million regular strike cents were produced in 1955). Collector interest in the type grew slowly, not taking off until the low-mintage 1931-S was extensively publicized, along with the advent of collecting boards in the early 1930s.
On the obverse, Brenner’s portrait of 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 appears slightly lower, in front of Lincoln’s portrait, on the coin’s right side.
On the 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 smaller type: UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.
The edge is plain.