When the production of Proof coins resumed after an eight-year hiatus at the Philadelphia Mint ended in 1950, mintages initially remained quite limited. But in 1957, the United States Mint issued over one million Proof Sets for the first time in its history. Continuing this trend, the 1961 issuance crept above three million for the first time, representing a 79% jump over the previous year’s figures. With the 1961 Proof Lincoln cent mintage tied directly to the number of sets sold, the Mint ended up striking a total of 3,028,244 Proof cents that year.
As with all prior years, the 1961 Proof cent was available only as part of the annual Proof Set. This set, containing all five circulation coins (the cent, the nickel, the dime, the quarter, and the half dollar), had a face value of 91 cents and was sold for $2.10 USD per unit. With packaging updated in 1955, collectors who purchased a set from the Mint would receive a yellow mailing envelope from the Treasury Department. Within this outer envelope was the familiar flat pack of Proof coins sealed in a cellophane film, each coin given its own compartment. Today, these sets can be acquired with relative ease for between $22 and $30.
In contrast to the early matte finish displayed by Lincoln Proof cents until 1916, the 1961 type was struck to a brilliant mirror finish. While the earlier finish was a product of sand-blasted dies (similar to the early incuse Proof Indian Head $2.5 and $5 Matte Proof coins), this new finish was created by polishing the dies to a completely smooth mirror surface. As such, the 1961 Proof cent was usually fully struck and released in an attractive Gem condition. However, while these coins are relatively common in Gem Red (RD) condition, Deep Cameo pieces account for just under 2% of the total certified population.
The 1961 Proof Lincoln Cent in Today’s Market
Aside from purchasing unopened Proof Sets and cherry-picking examples, there is more than enough stock to satisfy the collecting community’s demand for 1961 proof cents.
As with all copper coins, the color designation is vital to the piece’s value. In fact, virtually all non-Red designated pieces are not worth submitting for grading–unless they have exceptional characteristics, and can reliably grade at least PR 67. Even for RD cents, the issue is similar. Most coins, up to the very highest grades (Proof 68 – Proof 69) are only worth $20 to $100. Collectors should note that the auction record for this color designation on CoinFacts is actually for a lot of 50 unopened 1961 Proof sets. This price, which works out to be just over $25 a set, is actually average.
Cameo (CAM) and Deep Cameo (DCAM) pieces cross the grading cost threshold at roughly MS 66 – MS 67. In extremely high grades, DCAM and CAM pieces become slightly rare, with a total combined population (NGC and PCGS) of only 89 and 16 pieces graded as PR 69 CAM and DCAM, respectively. The difference, however, is that Cameo pieces graded Proof 68 and 69 sell for only $50 – $60 and $300 – $400, respectively, while DCAM in the same grades will fetch $400 – $500 and upwards of $4,000, respectively. This means there is a massive premium for the highest grade. In fact, the auction record for this type is held by an “essentially perfect” PR 69 DCAM sold by Heritage Auctions in September 2018 for $4,320.
The obverse of the 1961 Lincoln cent was designed by sculptor Victor David Brenner, whose initials VDB appear in tiny print under the shoulder of President Abraham Lincoln’s bust (which clearly dominates the front side of the coin). The right-facing profile of Lincoln shows the 16th president during his time as the nation’s commander in chief at the height of the Civil War, which spanned from 1861 through 1865, the latter being the year Lincoln was assassinated.
To the right of Lincoln is the date (1961). Since the coin was struck at the Philadelphia Mint, there is no mintmark. Behind Lincoln’s head is the inscription LIBERTY. Centered along the upper rim of the coin, in an arc over Lincoln’s head, is the motto IN GOD WE TRUST.
The reverse of the 1961 Proof Lincoln Memorial cent is anchored by an elevation view of the iconic Washington, D.C. memorial dedicated to the iconic president. The relatively high detail of the Lincoln Memorial design is sharp enough to reveal a tiny visage of Lincoln sitting in his chair, replicating the 19-foot-tall statue visitors will encounter inside the actual monument, which was dedicated in 1922.
Below the image of the Lincoln Memorial is the coin’s denomination, ONE CENT, and along the top center of the rim is the legend UNITED STATES OF AMERICA. The phrase E PLURIBUS UNUM is inscribed in two lines under the legend and above the Lincoln Memorial design. Designer Frank Gasparro’s initials FG are seen at the bottom right of the Lincoln Memorial just above a shrub.
The edge of the 1961 Lincoln cent Proof is smooth or plain and without reeding – as are all other Lincoln cents.
Lithuanian-born coin designer Victor David Brenner is best known for his iconic design for the Lincoln cent (1909-Present) (View Designer’s Profile).
Frank Gasparro was an American medalist and coin designer (View Designer’s Profile).
|Year Of Issue:||1961|
|Mint Mark:||None (Philadelphia)|
|Alloy:||95% copper, %5 tin and zinc|
|OBV Designer||Victor David Brenner|
|REV Designer||Frank Gasparro|
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