Description

In the lead-up to the passage of the Coinage Act of 1965, speculators and coin collectors drew the ire of the Mint, the Treasury, and many members of Congress who thought that the bustling coin hobby was to blame for the national coin shortage. Anybody who has studied a Red Book will understand that the mintages for clad U.S. coins post-1964 dwarfed those of coins struck before. Had collectors truly been the primary cause of the shortage, then the Mint would have seen a return to normalcy as collector enthusiasm for contemporary issues faded as it did with the arrival of clad dimes, quarters, and half-dollars and their astronomically high mintages. Obviously, that’s not what happened.

In a move that was seen as a punishment to the collecting community, but was probably done to help the Mint flood the market with coins of the new tenor, the Mint discontinued the use of mintmarks on coins struck at its branch mint in Denver and at the San Francisco Assay Office, formerly the San Francisco Mint, having been reclassified as an Assay Office in 1962.

The use of mintmarks on U.S. coins had been a longstanding tradition since the first branch mints were opened in 1838 in CharlotteDahlonega, and New Orleans. The Mint’s decision to discontinue their use was met with vocal criticism by the numismatic community. So effective was the argument for the continuation of their use that Mint Director Eva Adams reversed course and announced that mintmarks would return in 1968.

On January 4, the numismatic press and senior officials at the American Numismatic Association (ANA) joined Adams at the Denver Mint to witness the ceremonial first striking of 1968-D coinage. On hand were Chet Krause, publisher of Numismatic News; Margo Russell, editor of Coin World; Lee F. Hewitt, publisher of Numismatic Scrapbook Magazine; R.S. Yeoman, author of the Red Book; ANA President Arthur Sipe; and ANA Executive Director Ed Rochette.

Mint officials had also prepared a display of two 1968 Proof Sets. These sets were truly First Strikes; they were fully frosted and bore the S mintmark of San Francisco. Before Proof Set production was suspended in 1964, all Proof Sets were struck at the Philadelphia Mint. Striking Proof Sets in San Francisco was a big change for the hobby.

The 1968-D Lincoln cents struck on that day and all of those struck throughout the rest of the year have the distinction of being the very last cents struck from worn out hubs. For several years, the features that had distinguished the Lincoln cent as one of the finest coin portraits in the American series had worn down to the point where Lincoln’s beard and hair details were all but lost. A deep bowl gives the issue a unique look as the Mint die shop did its best to get one last year of use out of its tired and worn-out hubs.

Left: 1909-S Lincoln cent. Note the detail in the hair and beard, the folds in his jacket, and the outline of his tie. Also note the spacing between the lettering on LIBERTY and IN GOD WE TRUST and the raised rim. Right: 1968-D cent. This MS67RD example is a condition rarity. In this example, fine detail on Lincoln’s hair, beard, and jacket are lost. The tie blends in with his coat. L from LIBERTY and the top of IN GOD WE TRUST bleeds into the rim.
Left: 1959 Lincoln Memorial cent reverse. Note the sharpness of the frieze details and the clarity of the steps and columns. Right: 1968-D cent shows obvious warping of the Memorial. Steps lack definition and there is a blundering of detail on the lower frieze.

Collecting 1968-D Cents

As is the case with nearly every Lincoln cent produced 1959 to date, the United States Mint produced coins by the hundreds of millions, and unless the coin is a condition rarity or a scarce and coveted variety, there is very little numismatic premium to be had with a run-of-the-mill example. Many rolls of uncirculated 1968-D Lincoln cents were saved by collectors and speculators. These alone do not comprise the bulk of the uncirculated 1968-D cents that survive.

Most survivors come from 1968 United States Mint Uncirculated Sets, which were issued at $2.50 per set.

The Mint produced 2,105,128 Uncirculated Sets in 1968, each set containing one example of every circulating coin struck that year from each mint. Some percentage of these sets have been broken up over the years; some have been spent as money, and others have been cracked out and submitted due to the niceness of the coins. These sets contained $1.33 in face value, including a 40% silver-clad Kennedy half dollar, which has an estimated value of $3.90 in silver based on the prevailing spot price of silver ($26.44/oz) at the time of this article’s original publication. Given this set’s makeup, it is not difficult to purchase them for $12 or less. While estimating the value of a raw uncirculated modern coin is an imprecise science, we can safely say that the value of a 1968-D cent in most uncertified states is below $1.00. In circulated grades, the numismatic premium disappears almost entirely. An AU example with some flash of original mint red might find a buyer at 10 to 30 cents.

1968-D Lincoln Cent. PCGS MS67+RD. Image: GreatCollections.
1968-D Lincoln Cent. PCGS MS67+RD. Image: GreatCollections.

Certified examples in Gem or better Mint Set grades are another matter altogether. At the time of publication, NGC reports 929 examples in grades MS65RD and above. 96.2% of these grade MS66 or lower.

PCGS reports a total of 1,344 examples graded MS65RD or finer. At PCGS 95% of that total grades MS66 or lower, with the distribution of that 95% being split nearly evenly between MS65RD and MS66RD. NGC’s population skews slightly more heavily towards MS66RD. That you do not find a large percentage of coins grading below the gem level of MS65RD makes sense as the financial incentive to pay for certification does not exist for lower grades.

If we are to be totally honest, outside of a bulk submission program with heavily discounted submission prices, it doesn’t make sound financial sense to certify a 1968-D cent in grades below MS66RD. Online prices realized for MS66RD 1968-D cents from both grading services typically fall in the range of $25-$30. The market value of a 1968-D cent MS67RD increases dramatically, as, in this state of preservation, the 1968-D becomes scarce. NGC has reported 28 grading events at MS67RD with two at MS67+RD and two at MS68RD. PCGS has reported 35 at MS67RD and just one at MS67+RD.

That one MS67+RD, pictured above, brought $4,617.50 when it sold at a December 2018 GreatCollections auction. This doubled the previous highest price paid for a 1968-D cent, when a PCGS MS67RD sold at a 2008 Bowers & Merena sale for $2,300. There are no reported public sales that we can find of the two NGC MS68RD cents, nor do we know if the coins remain in those holders. There is no guaranty that either coin would cross over to PCGS at that grade, or whether a solid MS68RD 1968-D cent would realize a higher price than the December 2018 record for the MS67+RD. The certified coin market can be fickle, especially at the top end where competition can sometimes thin out.

Still, the 1968-D cent, despite its physical imperfections as struck, remains an interesting and idiosyncratic issue in its own right. In 1969, the Mint would strike cents with a completely reworked hub, returning much of Lincoln’s lost detail and strengthening Frank Gasparro’s architectural reverse. The 1968-D is the last of a string of Lincoln cents struck at a certain relief that isn’t quite high but isn’t quite low, either.

Obverse:

The obverse of the 1968-D Lincoln cent was designed by Victor David Brenner and appears largely as it did when the type was first minted in 1909. The main difference on the 1968-D obverse versus the 1909 version is the location of Brenners’ initials, V.D.B., which were added under Lincoln’s bust in 1918 after their removal from the reverse in late 1909. The year 1968 appears to the right of Lincoln, and the motto IN GOD WE TRUST appears above the president. On the left of the 16th president is the word LIBERTY. The D mint mark is located below the date.

Reverse:

Frank Gasparro designed the 1959 Lincoln Memorial reverse that replaced the original 1909 Brenner wheat stalk design. Gasparro’s initials FG appear on the lower-right side of the Lincoln Memorial. Below the edifice and along the rim are the words ONE CENT, while the legend UNITED STATES OF AMERICA run along the top half of the reverse along the rim. Between the top of the Lincoln Memorial and UNITED STATES OF AMERICA inscription is the motto E PLURIBUS UNUM.

Edge:

The edge of the 1968-D Lincoln cent is plain or smooth, without reeding or lettering.

1968-D Lincoln Cent Designer(s)

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).

Coin Specifications

Country:  USA
Year Of Issue:  1968
Denomination:  One Cent
Mint Mark:  D (Denver)
Mintage:  2,886,269,600
Alloy:  95% copper, %5 tin and zinc
Weight:  3.11 g
Diameter:  19.05 mm
Edge:  Plain
OBV Designer  Victor David Brenner
REV Designer  Frank Gasparro
Quality:  Business Strike

 

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