The Lincoln cent is the United States’ longest-serving coin. Its 1909 debut marked the centennial of the birth of Abraham Lincoln and its elegant sculptural design served as the vanguard of a new wave of American coin art. But while the golden age of American coin design is most associated with medallic artist and sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens, it is the early 20th-century work of Litvak-American sculptor Victor David Brenner that remains in circulation.
Although struck in a denomination that has very little purchasing power, the Lincoln cent is a coin collecting powerhouse that has driven untold millions of people to enter the coin hobby over the years and continues to be a cornerstone series for new collectors.
As is the case with many coin series, collecting Lincoln cents can be as simple or as complex as a collector wants to make it. A simplified view of the Lincoln cent series divides it into five major types:
- The “Wheat” cent of 1909-1958;
- The “Memorial” cent of 1959-1982;
- The “Zincoln” cent of 1983-2008;
- The four Bicentennial of Lincoln’s Birth commemorative reverse designs of 2009; and
- The “Shield” reverse of 2010-present.
For many, collecting Lincoln cents by date and mintmark is sufficient. Penny boards and coin albums have long proved popular methods of conveying the completeness of a collection. If you would like to build a collection of Lincoln cents, CoinWeek offers a high-quality Whitman Lincoln cent album at our supply shop.
Collectors interested in digging deeper than simply having one of each date and mintmark may consider a host of challenging collecting possibilities. Variety collectors can seek out hundreds of collectible doubled dies, repunched mintmarks and mint errors in the series, while quality-conscious collectors might attempt to complete the United States’ longest-running coin series in high grade. When venturing down these two paths, it’s best to arm oneself with up-to-date market information and work with professionals when questions of authenticity and condition rarity are encountered.
The 1928-S in Specific
The 1928-S’s mintage of 17,266,000 coins puts the issue at the eighth-highest production total for any pre-1930 San Fransisco cent. While the 1928-S is not a scarce date as early S-Mint Lincoln’s go, the issue has few known survivors in Gem Uncirculated grades and fewer still with full original red color.
According to PCGS population data, the California-based grading firm has certified 74 examples in MS-65 RD or better, with just five of those earning the top pop grade of MS66. At NGC, the population numbers are lower but the results are nearly identical. NGC counts seven in its census at MS-65 RD with none finer. Obviously, most surviving examples of the issue are found in well-circulated grades of Very Fine or below.
Taking stock of the overall market price for the 1928-S Lincoln cent, the typical well-circulated example that is offered at a coin shop or on the popular online marketplace eBay might sell for $5 to $10 in grades up to Very Fine. Certified uncirculated examples sell for $150 to $300 in Choice BU (MS-63), depending on the coin’s color and eye appeal.
Acquiring an example in Gem BU (MS65) and beyond represents a significant challenge for even the most advanced collector with prices exceeding $1,500 for one in Red Brown and $5,500 or more for a nice example with full Red. The record price paid for a 1928-S is $23,000, which was paid in April 2020 for a PCGS MS66 RD approved by CAC.
That example featured the “Small S” mintmark style that saw regular use from 1917 until it was phased out starting in 1941.
Curiously, 1928 saw limited use of a larger mintmark style across several denominations: the cent, the dime, the quarter, and half dollar. This naked-eye visible variety is much scarcer than the “Small S”, also known as the “Normal S“, and can readily be cherry-picked if one knows what to look for.
In the illustration provided above, you can see that the “Large S” mintmark is thicker and blobbier than the thinly-shaped “Small S”. The Large S variety is listed in the Cherrypicker’s Guide as FS-501 and is vaguely alluded to in the Red Book. But in our estimation, this is a significant variety and should be collected as such. NGC and PCGS will not automatically denote the presence of the “Large S” mintmark in the course of the regular grading schedule, which opens the door for examples to enter the certified market unnoticed.
The obverse of the 1928-S Lincoln cent, which features a right-facing bust of President Abraham Lincoln, was designed by Victor David Brenner. The date 1928 appears to the right of Lincoln and the motto IN GOD WE TRUST appears above the president. Below the date is the mint mark “S” for the San Francisco Mint. To the left of the 16th president is the word LIBERTY.
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 smaller type: UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.
The edge of the 1928-S Lincoln cent is plain or smooth.
Lithuanian-born coin designer Victor David Brenner is best known for his iconic design for the Lincoln cent (1909-Present) (View Designer’s Profile).
|Year Of Issue:||1928|
|Mint Mark:||S (San Francisco)|
|Alloy:||95% Copper, 5% Tin and Zinc|
|OBV Designer||Victor David Brenner|
|REV Designer||Victor David Brenner|
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A friend of mine bought a card and I saw only one 1928-S coin in it and many other US coins so I’ve saved them in my piggy bank
There is a typo in your article, “While the golden age of American coin design is most associated with medallic artist and sculptor Augustus Saint-Gardens.” That should be Augustus Saint-Gaudens.
Oh goodness. Thanks for the catch, it is fixed now.