By CoinWeek …..
Lincoln cents, the most popularly collected of all coins produced by the United States, will mark their 115th year of production in 2024. Once a rite of passage for generations of coin collectors, building a complete set of the series has become increasingly difficult in recent years. From million-dollar rarities to the issues that started the great 20th-century coin boom, the following is a rundown of CoinWeek’s picks for the “Top 10” Lincoln cents.
#10. 1992 Close AM
In 1992, the United States Mint re-cut the Lincoln cent reverse master hub in an effort to sharpen the details and create a better strike. And while the design remained nearly identical, the lettering in the legend UNITED STATES OF AMERICA was shifted slightly. In the older design, the letters “AM” are separated; on the new version, these letters are almost touching. Intended for release in 1993, several new reverse dies were nonetheless used in 1992 by both the Denver and Philadelphia mints (there are roughly a dozen examples of the 1992-D Close AM known). The variety was discovered in December 2001 by collector Colin Kusch. The 1992 Philadelphia Close AMs are slightly rarer. First discovered in May 2006 by Michigan coin collector Parker Ogilvie, there are roughly 10 known examples.
#9. 1960 Small Date
In 1960, the U.S. Mint updated the master dies for the Lincoln cent midyear. As was the case with the 1992 Close AM, dies of both the old style and the new style were put into use. Unlike the 1992 Close AM, however, far more of the older Small Date coins were struck and released, making the variety much more collectible.
As soon as collectors became aware of the situation, interest in the variety exploded and astute dealers were more than eager to sell the coins. Incidentally, the 1960 Small Date Lincoln cent is often called the coin that launched Coin World. By the mid-1960s, the variety was selling for close to $10 each – quite a sum for the time.
#8. 1922 Plain D
In 1922, Philadelphia did not produce Lincoln cents – only Denver did. Why, then, do 1922 cents without mintmarks exist? The answer is complicated.
When the die shop at the Philadelphia Mint produces dies for the branch mints, it adds a letter or series of letters to the coin to denote the branch mint of origin. With the exception of the 1942-1945 “War” nickels, coins struck at the main mint did not carry a mintmark. This changed in 1979 with the release of the Susan B. Anthony dollar. Other denominations followed, but, outside of a few limited instances, Lincoln cents struck at the Philadelphia Mint do not carry a mintmark.
As originally shipped, all dies used to strike 1922 cents at the Denver Mint did have a mintmark punch applied to the dies, including the 1922 Plain D.
Technically this is not a true variety but a die state. As is often the case, dies become damaged during use. If a die is repairable, then a mint worker might efface the die to remove the damage (such as clash marks). In this instance, the D mintmark was accidentally polished off of the die.
While the total 1922 Denver mintage of cents stands at just over seven million coins, this die state accounts for a mere fraction of the total number. They are quite rare, often faked, and interested collectors should ensure that they only purchase certified examples.
As one of the smallest mintages–second only to the 1909-S VDB and the 1931-S–the 1914-D Lincoln cent is one of the key dates for the entire series.
In fact, when Denver struck only 1,193,000 coins, Philadelphia struck over 75 million cents and San Francisco produced over four million. Even for Denver, this is a very low mintage. In 1913, the Denver Mint struck nearly 16 million coins and in 1915 it made over 22 million. PCGS Coinfacts estimates that only about 10% of the original mintage survives. We believe that this number is wildly optimistic and that perhaps fewer than 50,000 exist in desirable grades. We can thank the penny board craze of the 1930s for inspiring collectors to put aside that many.
By 1957, high-grade examples were selling for as much as $210 USD ($2,218 adjusted for inflation). Most of these are from a hoard of 700 pieces that came to market in that decade.
#6. 1944 Steel Cent
A companion off-metal error to the 1943 bronze cent (spoilers: #1 on this list), the 1944 steel cent was produced when the Mint switched to copper planchets made from recycled shell casings in 1944.
There are two possible ways that 1944 steel cents were struck at the Philadelphia Mint: either old 1943 steel planchets or steel blanks intended for foreign coinage slipped into the production line. The latter was not possible at Denver or San Francisco as neither facility struck zinc-coated steel coins for foreign governments that year. Consequently, while there are 25-30 known Philadelphia coins and seven known from Denver, there are only two known from San Francisco.
As Fred Weinberg, mint error specialist/consultant for PCGS noted, these coins have the unfortunate and unfair reputation of being known as the “poor sister of the more famous 1943 copper cent.” Instead, they should be viewed as fascinating and rare pieces in their own right!
#5. 1909 S VDB
For the longest time, this coin was considered to be considered the “King of Lincoln Cents”. The 1909-S VDB is the San Francisco striking of Victor David Brenner’s original approved design.
1909 marked the centennial of President Abraham Lincoln’s birth, and in order to honor him, the Mint debuted a stunning new coin design featuring Lincoln on the obverse and two wheat stalks on the reverse. Brenner adapted his obverse effigy from an earlier medal. The wheat reverse was a simpler (dare we say, more modern) interpretation of the traditional wreath design.
Brenner was not a Mint artist and thought that the coin design would propel his career forward. The inclusion of his initials on the final design was not untoward or unusual for medalists or sculptors.
The American public, with the help of the media, saw the initials as self-aggrandizing, and the Treasury Department quickly sought their removal. As a result of the public uproar, the Mint pulled Brenner’s initials within days, and as a result, only 484,000 of the 2,309,000 cents stuck at the San Francisco Mint in that year have the VDB. This makes the 1909-S VDB the rarest circulating-issue Lincoln cent.
#4. 1955 Doubled Die Cent
Created by an incorrectly manufactured die, the 1955 Doubled Die variety is quite dramatic and was instantly sought after upon its discovery.
The dramatic doubling was caused when the position of the die rotated slightly between impressions from the hub. This doubling is most notable on the legends IN GOD WE TRUST and LIBERTY, as well as the date (1955). The day these coins were struck, three cent presses were operating at the Philadelphia Mint. All dumped their completed coins into one box. Apparently, the inspector failed to notice the defective die until over 40,000 pieces were struck, by which time 24,000 specimens of the variety were intermingled with non-defective coins. Sixteen thousand pieces were isolated and then melted, but the rest were released into standard circulation. Many were famously paid out as change in cigarette vending machines.
#3. 1969 S Doubled Die Cent
As with the 1955 Doubled Die cent, this coin was created by a blundered die. The 1969-S Doubled Die is much rarer than the 1955, with fewer than 40 examples certified. This small surviving population is due to the fact that the offending die was discovered quite quickly.
But collectors beware! Virtually no sooner than it had been discovered, the 1969-S fell victim to a counterfeiting scheme. In 1969, Roy Gray and Morton Goodman worked together to create a number of fakes, including the 1969 Doubled Die Lincoln cent. Reportedly, some authentic examples also got caught up in the Secret Service’s hunt for the Gray/Goodman counterfeits and were destroyed.
The main way to tell authentic 1969-S Doubled Die Obverse cents from the fakes is that the real coins will not have doubled mintmarks. This was because the mintmark was punched into the die by hand after the doubling occurred.
#2. 1958 Doubled Die Cent
The 1958 Doubled Die Lincoln cent is a controversial coin. It is also one of the most valuable. The “king” of the Lincoln cent doubled dies, only a three examples are known. The doubling is dramatic, with the legend LIBERTY and the motto IN GOD WE TRUST being the most pronounced.
The coins were discovered in 1960, reportedly by Philadelphia collector Charles Ludovico. The rarity of the issue caused many to wonder whether these were intentional mint products or even forgeries. When the Mint was given the opportunity to study Ludovico’s specimen, they determined that the coin was authentic. In the 1990s, a Mint State example of this elusive coin traded for just over $25,000 – a bargain, given that the variety has since sold for six- and seven-figure sums!
#1. 1943 Bronze Cent
At number one is the most coveted of all Lincoln cent error coins: the 1943 Bronze cent. Struck during World War II, this error coin was created at a time when the United States was producing cents from zinc-coated steel planchets as it diverted its copper stockpile for the war effort.
While most current literature points to general war scarcity, some numismatists believe that this switch in metals was intended to instill a sense of ownership and sacrifice to the war effort on the part of ordinary citizens. Regardless of the reason for the switch, the U.S. Mint adopted the new planchet type for one year only. Unlike at the Philadelphia and San Francisco mints, where it is thought that some old 1942 planchets accidentally remained in the coin press feeding bins, no such error occurred at the Denver Mint. The only known 1943 D Bronze cent is thought to have been struck by a Mint worker for his personal collection. With extremely fine detail, it is believed that this coin was struck twice.
A conflicting story states that this coin was actually struck by United States Mint Chief Engraver John R. Sinnock. This particular coin was not discovered until much later, when it was examined by ANACS in 1979. Recently, the coin sold in 2021 by Heritage Auctions for $840,000.