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Second Look at Added 'S' Mintmark
By F. Michael Fazzari, Numismatic News
February 26, 2013

This article was originally printed in Numismatic News.
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In the Jan. 22, 2013, issue, this column reported a 1909-S VDB Lincoln cent with an added “S” that looked at first to be a heavily buffed genuine coin. I wrote that after researching my diagnostic files, compiled over 40 years, I could not find any altered or genuine dated 1909 coin from the Philadelphia or San Francisco Mint with the same pattern of die breaks that were found on this coin.

As a result, I gave the coin further scrutiny and determined that the “S” was added to a genuine 1909 VDB cent. Then, the coin’s obverse was buffed to hide traces of the mintmark addition. I also determined that the diagnostic chip in the upper curve of the “S” mintmark that I thought appeared weak on this coin (due to the buffing) was not actually there. This style mintmark is found on many dates from the San Francisco Mint after 1909.

One reader has written to make a valid point about the coin in my column. Basically, he wished to know how I could pretend to know all the die breaks found on genuine 1909-S VDB cents. Because of this, the coin could be a new variety unknown to me. His question is easy to answer and it gave me another reason to write about the coin in question. In hindsight, this altered coin should have proved to be no challenge at all. You’ll need to read to the end of this column to find out why.

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Many years ago, there was an article in the The Numismatist magazine written by Del Romaines tracing the different die states of coins. The author selected a number of 1955 doubled die Lincoln cents to use for his example to show how coin dies deteriorate during use. He picked the 1955 cents because only one die pair was used to strike all of the coins of this variety. Let me confess that I felt “blind-sided,” and totally jealous that his research reached print when it did. His effort was a great treatment of a research project we were also working on at the Authentication Bureau; but we never thought to use a coin struck with one die pair.

Romines article showed how the appearance of a coin changed as more and more coins were struck from a single die. This expanded the usage of die states from large cents and Bust coinage to more modern issues. Today, many advanced collectors group coins into Early Die State (EDS), Mid Die State (MDS) and Late Die State (LDS).

Because coins exist in different die states, authenticators are often able to trace the deterioration and die breaks found on key coins such as the 1909-S and 1909-S VDB Lincoln cent. Since this has probably been done by many other numismatic researchers, it is a sure bet that no genuine 1909-S VDB will turn up with a “new” pattern of die breaks that has not been seen in the past.

The die breaks on the fake in my column are well-progressed so it is probably a LDS example of a genuine 1909 VDB cent to which the “S” mintmark was added. No record exists for these breaks on any die state of SVDB cents. So contrary to the reader’s suggestion, I do presume to have a record of all the die breaks found on genuine 1909-S and SVDB coins in my two inch file of diagnostics. Therefore, I concluded that the coin is 100 percent altered. There is one final nail for this coffin that readers can verify using “Counterfeit Detection” a reprint from the The Numismatist Volume II.

I mentioned that an American Numismatic Association study in the The Numismatist magazine showed micrographs of the four positions of the “S” mintmark found on genuine SVDB cents. The mintmark on the altered coin in my column was not in one of the four positions shown on Pages 42 and 43 for 1909-S VDB coins. Checking this resource did not even occur to me at first because my interest in confirming the location of die breaks on the coin using my diagnostic records took me away from the more obvious path to authentication – the location of the “S” mintmark. Therefore, a coin that should have taken less than 15 seconds to authenticate actually consumed about 15 minutes of study, but it was time well spent as I got a column topic out of my effort.

Numismatics is full of surprises for all who study coins closely. As I said in the original column, I realized that I don’t have a record yet for all the die breaks found on 1909 or 1909-VDB coins that can be used by fakers as a platform to make an SVDB. In that regard, the reader was correct; but it is a search I’ll continue to work on. I hope this column will close the case on this altered Lincoln cent.

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