Collectible Error Cents|
August 04, 2010
This article was originally printed in Coins Magazine.
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For many popularly collected series, certain minting varieties are collected along with the normal date/mintmark combinations. For example, in the Buffalo nickel series, collectors frequently acquire such minting varieties as the 1937-D three-legged buffalo and the 1918/7-D overdate. Another popular variety in this series is the 1916 doubled-die obverse, which comes with a clearly separated second date.
Because of the set’s popularity and the number of collectors of it, many error varieties have been found in the Lincoln cent series, and a number of these varieties have even acquired A Guide Book of United States Coins status. Of course, anything listed in the Red Book is considered a nearly must-have variety by many collectors of the series. This article will discuss several of the most well-known minting varieties in the Lincoln cent series.
It’s worth noting that Red Book status was acquired over time for most of the minting varieties included in the current edition. To illustrate what I mean by this, my first Red Book, the 11th, or 1958 edition, listed only one error variety, 1922 Plain (no D). Now, there are 11 varieties listed for wheat-back Lincolns (1909-1958). Amazingly, although the 1955 doubled-die obverse cent was discovered soon after it was minted, it was not included in the 1958 Red Book (copyright 1957).
The first Red Book variety I want to talk about is the 1909-S/S (S over horizontal S). With a mintage of just 1,825,000 pieces, the 1909-S has long been one of the keys to the set. As David Bowers puts it in A Guide Book of Lincoln Cents, the 1909-S is “Scarce in any and all grades from well worn up, this in the context of the Lincoln cent series.”
About the 1909-S over horizontal S in particular, Bowers writes, “This is one of the more interesting die varieties in the series.… The mintmark was first punched erroneously in a horizontal position, then finally corrected.”
Because it occurs on a coin that’s already relatively expensive, there’s little premium for this overmintmark. According to Numismatic News’ “Coin Market,” it’s worth either the same amount or less (!) for five of the nine listed grades. It’s worth slightly more only in the grades of Extremely Fine-40 ($255 vs. $245), About Uncirculated-50 ($280 vs. $265), Mint State-63 ($425 vs. $385), and MS-65 ($1,600 vs. $1,275).
The next Lincoln cent variety worth discussing is the 1917 doubled-die obverse. Bowers calls this doubling “slight but unmistakable” and describes it as evident on the date and “IN GOD WE TRUST.” In The Cherrypickers’ Guide to Rare Die Varieties of United States Coins, Fivaz and Stanton comment, “This variety has finally become arguably the most sought after of the early Lincoln cent varieties. Grades as low as G-4 are easily sold.…”
According to “Coin Market,” the 1917 doubled die is worth $90 in Good-4, $110 in Very Good-8, $175 in Fine-12, $350 in Very Fine-20, $900 in EF-40, $1,750 in AU-50, $2,500 in MS-60, $4,200 in MS-63, and $27,500 in MS-65. In his Complete Encyclopedia of U.S. and Colonial Coins, Walter Breen attributes the variety’s discovery to Andrew Frandsen in the 1970s. Frandsen, of Sandusky, Ohio, was one of my favorite suppliers in the decade of my mail-order coin business. Unfortunately, we never discussed the 1917 doubled-die Lincoln.
The next major die variety is what I would call one of “the biggies,” the 1922 “no D” Lincoln. The Red Book lists and prices two variations, the true no D (so-called die pair No. 2, with a strong reverse) and 1922 with a weak D. “Coin Market” gives three varieties: 1922-D Weak D, 1922 No D Die 2 Strong Reverse, and 1922 No D Die 3 Weak Reverse.
In my first Red Book, which I acquired when I started collecting in the 1950s, there was only a 1922 Plain (no D). Amazingly, its value was quite similar to that of the regular 1922-D. It was worth $2 (vs. $1) in Good, $4 (vs. $2.50) in F, and $10 (vs. $10) in Unc.
According to the current Red Book, “1922 cents with a weak or missing mintmark were made from extremely worn dies that originally struck normal 1922D cents. Three different die pairs were involved; two of them produced ‘Weak D’ coins. One die pair (no. 2, identified by a ‘strong reverse’) is acknowledged as striking ‘No D’ coins. Weak D cents are worth considerably less.”
Back in my roll searching days, I found a coin that would have been considered a “no D” at the time. In fact, it precisely matched the description of a 1922 “Plain” in a 1976 catalog of U.S. coins by Don Taxay, which reads, “On the completely filled, or plain, 1922, a shadow of the ‘D’ can still be seen.” I eventually sold my “shadow D” 1922 for considerably more than the one cent I paid for it.
In “Coin Market,” values for the strong reverse 1922 No D are $725 in G-4, $790 in VG-8, $1,050 in F-12, $1,375 in VF-20, $2,800 in EF-40, $5,900 in AU-50, $10,500 in MS-60, $29,500 in MS-63, and a whopping $160,000 in MS-65. The “no D” from the die pair with a weak reverse is worth a lot, but considerably less than the preceding values. For example, it’s worth $300 in G-4, $685 in F-12, $1,750 in EF-40, and $14,500 in MS-63. No value is given for MS-65, probably because it is unknown in this grade.
As for the “weak D,” which is what I found, it’s worth considerably more than the normal 1922-D cent but much less than either of the “no Ds.” To cite just a few values and grades, the “weak D” is worth $30 (vs. $20) in G-4, $100 (vs. $25) in VF-20, and $1,650 (vs. $165) in MS-63.
The next significant Lincoln cent variety is the 1936 doubled-die obverse. According to Bowers, several varieties exist, with three shown and discussed by Fivaz and Stanton. The first of these is described as having “Very strong doubling…on the date, LIBERTY, and IN GOD WE TRUST.” Fivaz and Stanton go on to state, “Collectors like to assemble all three of the 1936-dated varieties.” This variety is not listed in “Coin Market,” so I’ll take prices from the 2010 Red Book. Amazingly, the values are considerably less than those shown in the 2009 Red Book. Has a hoard been discovered?
No values are given for a 1936 doubled-die obverse in either G-4 or VG-8, which either means that the coin is unknown in these grades or the doubling is not visible on well-worn pieces. The 2010 Red Book values are $25 in F-12, $50 in VF-20, $75 in EF-40, $120 in AU-50, $170 in MS-60, and $300 in MS-63. In the 2009 edition, the corresponding values were $55, $90, $100, $250, and $1,000, with no value given for the double die in MS-63.
Bypassing three mintmark varieties (1943-D/D, 1944-D/S, and 1946-S/D), we come to what has to be the king of doubled dies, the 1955 doubled-die obverse. Bowers notes, “By almost any evaluation, the 1955 Doubled-Die cent is the most famous die error in the series. The date and almost all obverse lettering are dramatically doubled.”
Bowers writes that he inquired about the doubled die at the Mint and learned that “on a particular day in 1955, several presses were coining cents, dumping the coins into a box where they were then collected and mixed with the cents from other coin presses.” By the time the error was discovered, approximately 24,000 doubled-die cents had been mixed with normal 1955s, and the decision was made to let them go, as “The Mint had no reason to believe that these would attract attention or have value with collectors.” Obviously, the Mint didn’t know much about collectors.
Bowers estimates that 3,000 to 4,000 1955 doubled-die cents exist today. In “Coin Market,” the coin is priced in only two grades, EF-40 ($1,600) and MS-65 ($43,500). The 2010 Red Book gives values in additional grades: VF-20, $1,300; AU-50 ($1,600; the Red Book value in EF-40 is $1,400); MS-60, $2,000; and MS-63, $3,000. In MS-65, the Red Book values the variety at $12,500. Some of the discrepancy in the MS-65 value may have to do with how much mint luster is still evident, as coins with full mint luster are worth considerably more than coins listed as either red-brown (RB) or just brown.
According to Bowers and Fivaz and Stanton, there are many counterfeits of this rare Lincoln cent. Bowers urges purchase of only coins certified by one of the major services, whereas Fivaz and Stanton write, “Check for a faint die scratch under the left horizontal bar of the T of CENT to establish authenticity.”
Although the Red Book lists a 1956-D Above Shadow D and a 1958 with doubled-die obverse, I’ll skip these and focus briefly on a variety identified as 1960, D Over D, Large Over Small Date. Fivaz and Stanton list the variety as a 1960-D with a doubled-die obverse. “The doubling is evident as a Small Date Over Large Date,” which is just the opposite of the way the Red Book entry reads. If you think about it, unless there was separation in the two dates, a large date over a small date wouldn’t be visible, as the small date would be completely covered by the large date. The photograph in Fivaz and Stanton clearly shows a small date over a large date.
As for the D over D, Fivaz and Stanton write, “There is also a very wide RPM [repunched mintmark], with the secondary D far north of the primary D, actually touching the 9 of the date.” The secondary D is much fainter than the primary D but still clearly evident.
“Coin Market” values this coin only in MS-65 ($300), which is the same value it’s assigned in the Red Book. In Fivaz and Stanton, the values are $100 in AU-50, $150 in MS-60, $250 in MS-63, and $500 in MS-65.
Next, we come to the extremely rare 1969-S doubled-die obverse. Although Fivaz and Stanton describe the coin as having “Extremely strong doubling…on all obverse lettering and numbers,” Bowers notes that the doubling is not as dramatic as that seen on the 1955 doubled-die obverse.
According to Bowers, “Discovery of this variety made front-page news in Coin World, July 8, 1970. The Secret Service went on a witch hunt for these, believing they were counterfeit.… By the time these were acknowledged as legitimate, five genuine coins had been destroyed.…”
Neither “Coin Market” nor the Red Book give values for the 1969-S doubled-die obverse, but Fivaz and Stanton price it in five grades. According to them, it’s worth $65,000 in EF-40, $75,000 in AU-50, $85,000 in MS-60, $100,000 in MS-63, and $150,000 in MS-65RD (full red).
Bowers gives an important caveat at the end of his discussion of this variety: “Some 1969-S circulation strikes from regular dies, but with ‘machine doubling’ or die chatter during the coining process, have been offered or even certified (but not by one of the top three or four services) as the Doubled-Die obverse. Machine-doubled coins will have the S mintmark doubled, whereas the Doubled Die does not.” On the same topic, Fivaz and Stanton give photographic enlargements of a 1969-S with strike doubling.
Another major doubled-die Lincoln cent became a popular collectible in 1972, the 1972 doubled-die obverse. Actually, Fivaz and Stanton note that there are “nine obverse doubled dies for this year. Many people want to assemble a set of all nine examples.”
The most popular of the nine varieties has “a small die gouge on the reverse near the rim above the D of UNITED,” according to Fivaz and Stanton. They describe the coin as follows: “Very strong doubling is evident on the date, LIBERTY, and IN GOD WE TRUST. The secondary image is spread clockwise to the primary image.”
“Coin Market” values this variety at $395 in MS-60 and $775 in MS-65. With lower values across the board, Fivaz and Stanton say that it’s worth $240 in AU-50, $300 in MS-60, $360 in MS-63, and $400 in MS-65. The other varieties they picture are worth considerably less in all grades, with one exception, a coin they call “the fourth of the nine obverse doubled dies for this year.… This is by far the rarest of the 1972 doubled dies.” They assign it a value of $500 in MS-65.
Like the first 1972 doubled die they discuss, Fivaz and Stanton describe this coin as having strong doubling on the date, “LIBERTY,” and the motto. Unfortunately, the pictures in Cherrypickers’ Guide fail to corroborate this description, although I readily concede that the coin may look better “in person” than on the page.
Estimates for the number of 1972 doubled dies (probably the most “striking” example) released have varied widely, with Sol Taylor suggesting 20,000 and John Wexler estimating 75,000. Bowers notes, “Counterfeits are common,” and he advises the purchase of examples certified by the leading services.
More than a decade passed before the report of another major doubled die on a Lincoln cent. This time the doubling appeared on the reverse of a 1983 cent, described as follows by Fivaz and Stanton: “All reverse lettering is strongly doubled, including UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, E PLURIBUS UNUM, and ONE CENT. Also doubled are the designer’s initials and portions of the memorial.” Values shown in “Coin Market” are $200 in MS-60 and $400 in MS-65. In The Complete Guide to Lincoln Cents, David Lange suggests, “the actual number of coins in existence may be less than 2,000 pieces.”
Lincoln variety collectors didn’t have long to wait for the next big thing, as 1984 brought a Philadelphia (or West Point) error with a doubled-die obverse. This time the doubling was mainly apparent on the ear and chin of Lincoln. As Fivaz and Stanton describe it, “Strong doubling is evident on the ear of Lincoln, with additional doubling on the beard and bowtie.” Under “Comments,” they write, “This variety is extremely popular among even regular collectors. It was discovered by Richard Allen in 1984.”
Like the 1983 doubled die, an estimated population of 2,000 has been suggested. Amazingly, this is one variety that I actually own. After reading that some had been found in a nearby city in my state, I asked my wife if she had any “pennies” in her purse. She did, and wonder of wonders, one of them was a nice, red uncirculated 1984 doubled-ear Lincoln. Other than some 40 percent silver halves, this is the last good circulation find I made. Of course, I should note that I don’t spend much time looking through coins in circulation.
Lightning struck again in 1995, with a doubled-die obverse cent. Fivaz and Stanton describe the variety as having “very strong doubling…on LIBERTY and IN GOD WE TRUST, with minor doubling on the date.” Under comments, they write, “First reported by Felix Dausiloi, this variety received rapid recognition when it appeared on the front page of USA Today, sending us all on a nationwide treasure hunt.”
Photographic enlargements of the coin show rather dramatic doubling, particularly on “LIBERTY,” as Fivaz and Stanton indicate. In real life, however, the doubling is not nearly so dramatic, as I found when I purchased an example soon after all the publicity. In fact, these old eyes can only see the doubling through a 10x loop. In other words, if you haven’t seen one, don’t expect doubling of the 1955 or 1972 double-die variety.
“Coin Market” assigned the 1995 double die values of $30 in MS-60 and $50 in MS-65. These values are consistent with those given by Fivaz and Stanton, who, in addition, suggest it’s worth $25 in AU-50 and $35 in MS-63.
The relatively low values for this doubled die are consistent with the rather low degree of separation of the two images and also with the idea that a large number of specimens were produced. Lange writes, “Though the Mint has no data on this issue, it has been estimated from the numbers seen in the marketplace that several hundred thousand may have been coined.” Later, he notes, “The fact that multiple die states exist suggests a long press run, and as many as a million or more may have been produced!”
That’s the end of my look at major Red Book Lincoln cent varieties. Mostly I’ve talked about significant doubled dies, such as the 1955 and 1972 with obverse doubling and the 1983 with doubling on the reverse. In addition, I’ve mentioned major mintmark varieties, such as the 1909-S over horizontal S and the 1922 “no D.”
These are all coins that have caught the attention of major numbers of Lincoln cent collectors. Chances are good that the varieties discussed in this article will continue to be pieces considered worth adding to a Lincoln cent collection. As such, demand and short supply will drive their values ever higher.
If you haven’t added any of these varieties to your collection and can afford them, then see what you can find. Just be sure to purchase coins certified by one of the major certification services. Even if you pay a bit too much for a nice coin today, over time I can almost guarantee your purchase of a major Lincoln cent error variety will not be an error.
More Coin Collecting Resources:
• 2011 U.S. Coin Digest: Cents
• Subscribe to our Coin Price Guide, buy Coin Books & Coin Folders and join the NumisMaster VIP Program
• Strike It Rich with Pocket Change, 2nd Edition
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