What is the Lincoln Memorial Cent?
The Lincoln Memorial cent was first issued in 1959. It was the second reverse design used in the Lincoln cent series, which was introduced originally in 1909 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the birth of 16th president Abraham Lincoln. The 150th anniversary of that event occasioned another design change: the replacement of the wheat seed heads on the reverse with a depiction of the Lincoln Memorial located at the west end of the National Mall in Washington, D.C..
Popular with the public ever since its opening in 1922, the Memorial’s image on a coin was not as well received. The design by United States Mint Assistant Engraver Frank Gasparro was criticized as being unbalanced and too simplistic because of the low relief needed for efficient coinage, though perhaps for some the fault was simply that the wheat design was no longer in use.
The initial composition of the Memorial cent was the same copper, tin, and zinc used for the last Wheat cents, but because of a shortage of tin, cents minted from late 1962 through the end of the type were comprised only of copper and zinc. This last composition is technically brass, with tin generally considered a necessary component of bronze, but many nonetheless describe the cents as being made of bronze.
Thousands of business strike bronze/brass Lincoln Memorial cents are listed in census/population reports at PCGS and NGC, categorized by color definition (BN, RB, and RD, for Brown, Red-Brown, and Red), with most in grades of MS60 and finer and classified as Red. Prices are very modest for many issues to grades of Premium Gem, jumping to expensive and very expensive (with a few exceptions) as MS67 and finer. Higher-priced issues include the 1960 D Over D, Large Date Over Small Date; the prooflike 1965, 1966, and 1967 Cameo and Deep Cameo Special Mint Set pieces; the 1969-S Double Die Obverse (extremely expensive in all grades); the 1970-S Large Date Double Die Obverse; the 1971 Double Die Obverse; and the 1972 Double Die Obverse.
Several thousand Proof bronze/brass Memorial cents have been certified, many as Red and with Cameo/ Deep Cameo designations. Prices are modest for many dates up to and including PR69, though higher to much higher for Cameo and Deep Cameo examples. Higher priced issues include the 1960 Large Date Over Small Date, the 1970-S Small Date in Cameo/ Deep Cameo, and the 1971-S Double Die Obverse.
The Controversial Aluminum Cent
In late 1973, the Mint looked again at alternate cent compositions, this time because copper prices were rising to the point where the metal value would have exceeded face value. In response, over 1.5 million aluminum cents were minted with a 1974 date, but because of concerns from the vending industry, all but a few of the coins were melted. One survivor is in the Smithsonian, and perhaps 10 or more other pieces are held by the public. However, because private possession of the aluminum cent is illegal no matter how one ended up with the coin, such trials or patterns will be seized by the government.
At the 2016 ANA World’s Fair of Money, CoinWeek was able to film the display of a 1974-D aluminum cent that the Mint had recently confiscated after years of litigation.
Lincoln Memorial Cent Varieties
Over the course of the Lincoln Memorial cent’s run, several modifications have been made to the design, many of which were intended to improve die life. This has resulted in several varieties of interest to the specialist. A short list of notable varieties includes the 1960 and 1960-D Large Date and Small Date; the 1960 D Over D, Large Over Small Date; the 1969-S Doubled Die Obverse; the 1970-S Small Date High 7, Large Date Low 7, and Doubled Die Obverse; the 1971-S Doubled Die Obverse; the 1972 Doubled Die Obverse; the 1979-S Filled S and Clear S; the 1981-S Filled S and Clear S; and the 1982 Large Date and Small Date.
In 1982, the cent composition was changed once again in response to increasing metal prices, to a mostly zinc core with a pure copper plating. Today, increasing metal prices continue to compromise the production costs of the cent, but another threat to its longevity has risen as many question the continuance of a denomination that may have outlived its commercial utility.
In-Depth Memorial Cent Date Analysis by CoinWeek IQ
The editors of CoinWeek have studied the Lincoln Memorial cent in-depth and have published collector guides on several popularly-collected issues. The following are three of our most popular coin collecting guides.
The 1960 Proof Lincoln cent offers variety collectors an affordable challenge with a few fun overdate varieties.
The 1961 Lincoln cent in Proof generally comes with a beautiful mirrored finish. Some examples that were struck with fresh dies will exhibit cameo frost on the devices. 1961 Lincoln cent Proofs with Cameo or Deep / Ultra Cameo frost can sell for hundreds of dollars.
The 1968-D Lincoln cent has a distinctive bowl-shaped appearance. By this year, the hubs that were used to create coin dies had become sufficiently worn and the details on the Lincoln design were largely smoothed over. This is a popular issue for those interested in learning about hub deterioration.
Additional Lincoln Memorial Cent Coin Resources
- 1969-S Lincoln Memorial Cent
- 1974 Lincoln Memorial Cent
- 1976 Lincoln Memorial Cent
- 1976-D Lincoln Memorial Cent
- 1978 Lincoln Memorial Cent
- 1980 Lincoln Memorial Cent
- 1982 Lincoln Memorial Cent
A right-facing Lincoln occupies most of the obverse. At the top, inside a raised rim and above Lincoln’s head is IN GOD WE TRUST. To the left of the portrait is LIBERTY, and to the right and slightly lower, the date. Bronze/ brass Lincoln Memorial cents were minted at Philadelphia, Denver, and San Francisco; D and S mintmarks appear below the date. The reverse center has a prominent depiction of the Lincoln Memorial, with the statue of Lincoln visible within. To the right of the Memorial’s base are the designer’s initials FG. UNITED STATES oF AMERICA at the top and ONE CENT at the bottom form nearly a complete text circle inside the raised rim. E PLURIBUS UNUM is placed above the Memorial, with UNUM on a separate line; centered dots are located between E and PLURIBUS, and on each side of UNUM.
|Lincoln Memorial Cent||Bronze|
|Years Of Issue:||1959-82|
|Mintage (Circulation):||High – 10,712,525,000 (1982); Low – 258,270,001 (1968-S)|
|Mintage (Proof):||High – 4,149,730 (1976-S); Low – 1,149,291 (1959)|
|Alloy:||95% copper, 5% tin and zinc (1959-62); 95% copper, 5% zinc (1962-82)|
|OBV Designer||Victor D. Brenner|
|REV Designer||Frank Gasparro|
* * *
Bowers, Q. David. The Experts Guide to Collecting & Investing in Rare Coins. Whitman Publishing.
–. A Guide Book of Lincoln Cents. Whitman Publishing.
–. A Guide Book of United States Type Coins. Whitman Publishing.
Breen, Walter. Walter Breen’s Encyclopedia of U.S. Coins. Doubleday.
Guth, Ron and Jeff Garrett. United States Coinage: A Study by Type. Whitman Publishing.
Lange, David W. The Complete Guide to Lincoln Cents. Zyrus Press.
–. Coin Collecting Boards of the 1930s and 1940s. Pennyboard Press.
Taxay, Don. The U.S. Mint and Coinage. Arco Publishing.
Yeoman, R.S and Kenneth Bressett (editor). The Official Red Book: A Guide Book of United States Coins. Whitman Publishing.
* * *