By Mike Thorne
Minting varieties are the coins
that the Mint didn't intend to make. They're the
Mint's mistakes that somehow made it past the
quality control inspections. Although disliked
by the Mint, they're adored by many collectors.
However, not all collectors of a given series
are interested in minting varieties. Many
collectors consider the error coins unnecessary
for a complete collection. For example, although
the 1955 doubled-die Lincoln cent is widely
popular and has enough demand to push the price
to dizzying heights, few Lincoln cent collectors
consider their set incomplete if they don't have
one. Lincoln cent varieties, of which the 1955
doubled die is one of the best known, are the
subject of this article. My aim is to discuss
the best known of the Lincoln cent varieties,
their histories, and their values, with an
emphasis on wheat cent varieties. I'll begin
with A Guide Book of United States Coins
As it turns out, the 2008 edition lists more
than 40 different varieties, with most coming
after 1959. The reason? Astronomical mintages
are almost certainly to blame (or to thank,
depending on your perspective). When you're
minting more than a billion coins a year, it's
easy for something to go awry and produce a new
Of the 11 pre-1959 varieties, just one - the
1922 "no D" - was listed in the 1958 Red Book,
which was the first addition to my numismatic
library. In addition to that venerable variety,
the current Red Book records the
1909-S/horizontal S, 1917 doubled-die obverse,
1922 weak D, 1936 doubled-die obverse, 1943-D
boldly doubled mintmark, 1944-D/S, 1946-S/D,
1955 doubled die, 1956-D/shadow D, and 1958
About the 1909-S/horizontal S, Bowers writes in
A Guide Book of Lincoln Cents, "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. The variety was not
publicized until the 1970s and is still not
widely known today.&" Red Book values suggest
that this variety is worth only slightly more
than the same date with a normal mintmark (e.g.,
$80 vs. $75 in Good-4, $375 vs. $350 in Mint
State-63). If you have the chance to buy one
without having to pay a significant premium over
the normal variety, I say, "Jump on it."
Bowers also lists a 1909-S repunched mintmark, S
over slightly smaller S. He writes that this is
"clearly defined under low magnification." Until
it becomes a Red Book variety (if it ever does),
this will be a coin with limited interest.
According to Walter Breen's Complete
Encyclopedia of U.S. and Colonial Coins, the
1917 doubled-die obverse was discovered by
Andrew Frandsen in about 1977. During the decade
that I had a mail-order coin business, Frandsen
became one of my favorite suppliers of coins,
although I never received a 1917 doubled-die
Lincoln cent from him.
Bowers writes that the 1917 doubled dies are
"scarce, but not widely known except to readers
of specialized texts. No doubt some still may be
found among 'raw' coins." Red Book values begin
at $140 in Fine-12 and top out at $2,200 in
MS-63. Bill Fivaz and J. T. Stanton, writing in
The Cherrypickers' Guide to Rare Die Varieties,
call this "one of the top five Lincoln cent
varieties" and consider it "extremely rare in
Much has been written about the 1922 "no D"
Lincoln cent. As is well known, all the cents
were struck at the Denver Mint in 1922. Some,
for varying reasons, were produced with either a
weak mintmark or with no hint of a mintmark. The
former is considered relatively common and
valued accordingly. The latter is considerably
more valuable, and if you're interested in the
variety and are willing to pay big bucks to have
one in your collection, be sure you get the
According to the American Numismatic Association
Certification Service, 1922 cents with missing
or partially missing mintmarks were produced
from three different die pairs. Die pairs 1 and
3 produced their varieties "as a result of die
deterioration and die filling," with the result
that they produced some coins with complete
mintmarks, some with partial mintmarks, and some
By contrast, none of the coins from die pair 2
have mintmarks, and coins from this die pairing
are the ones recognized by the certification
services as being the most desirable and
valuable of the 1922 no Ds.
So, how can you tell the difference between 1922
no Ds from the different die pairs? One key
factor is the sharpness of the reverse. If the
coin appears relatively weak on the obverse but
has a strong reverse, then it's probably from
die pair 2. Also, if the second 2 in the date is
sharper than the first 2, then the coin is
probably from die pair 2. On the other hand, if
the second 2 is weaker than the first 2, then
the coin is probably from die pairs 1 or 3. Of
course, if all else fails, you should have the
coin certified by a major service, which is a
good idea for all expensive coins and
particularly for 1922 no Ds.
Back in my roll searching days, I found a 1922-D
with just a hint of a mintmark. For years, I
considered this a genuine 1922 no D cent because
of a sentence in Don Taxay's The Comprehensive
Catalogue & Encyclopedia of U.S. Coins.
According to Taxay, "On the completely filled,
or plain, 1922, a shadow of the 'D' can still be
seen." Obviously, my coin was not from die pair
2. When I finally sold the coin, I sold it as a
"partial D," not as the more desirable variety.
Next, we have the 1936 doubled-die obverse
variety. Actually, Breen mentioned five
varieties for the date. According to David
Lange, writing in The Complete Guide to Lincoln
Cents, "This date offers one of the most popular
doubled-die obverses in the Lincoln series.&"
The most desirable of the 1936 varieties are
characterized by doubling in the date and in the
word "LIBERTY." Fivaz and Stanton present
enlarged photographs of the key design features
of the first two of the five varieties, which
they describe as the "strongest and most
desirable" of the doubled die varieties of 1936.
In terms of assigned values, the doubled die
from die 1 lists for $95 in Extremely Fine, $275
in MS-60, and $2,000 in MS-65. In the same
grades, the doubled die from die 2 is valued at
$60, $150, and $1,400, respectively. Fivaz and
Stanton describe the die 2 coin as extremely
rare in uncirculated.
The next three Red Book varieties involve
mintmark anomalies. The first is a repunched
mintmark on the 1943-D, or, as the Red Book
lists it, a "Boldly Doubled Mintmark." In
illustrations of this variety, it is apparent
that the mintmark was initially punched too low
and then repunched to the northeast for its
According to Fivaz and Stanton, "This is a very
tough repunched mintmark to find. Try checking
original BU rolls. If you find one of these in a
roll, chances are there will be others." The
values of the coin given by Fivaz and Stanton
are $100 in MS-63 and $200 in MS-65. By
contrast, Red Book values start at $6 in F-12
and ascend to just $75 in MS-65. Fivaz and
Stanton obviously consider this variety more
interesting and valuable than the compilers of
value for the Red Book, and Bowers calls it:
"One of the most dramatic double-punched
mintmarks in the series and a 'must have'
variety for many who know about it."
Next, we come to two overmintmarks, the 1944-D/S
and the 1946-S/D. There are two varieties of the
1944-D/S, one with a good bit of the S exposed
above the D and the other with the D covering
most of the S, "which is most visible to the
left of the D." Bowers notes that both varieties
are relatively recent discoveries. He writes,
"As is true of virtually all die varieties
within the series, the opportunity for
cherrypicking is excellent."
As you might expect, the more obvious variety,
the one with more of the S exposed, is the most
valuable. Values listed in Fivaz and Stanton for
this variety are $125 in EF, $400 in MS-63, and
$1,100 in MS-65. In the same grades, the other
variety is worth $90, $290, and $500,
respectively. Values given in the Red Book are
for the first variety.
According to Bowers, the 1946-S/D "features an
earlier D, small in size, that is unequivocally
visible when examined under magnification, but
is not sharply defined." The phrase
"unequivocally visible" seems to be negated by
his next comment, however, which is, "Some
imagination may be required to see it." Is it
"unequivocally visible," or do you need to use
your "imagination" to detect it?
Because of his comment about the necessity of a
good imagination, it's not surprising that
Bowers next states, "Accordingly, it is not
widely collected." Contrast this comment with
one by Fivaz and Stanton: "Since this variety
appeared in The Second Edition, it has become
one of the most popular Lincoln cent varieties
while continuing to elude cherrypickers." Lange
calls the 1946-S/D "by far the most interesting
and valuable"of some 29 repunched mintmark
varieties of the date.
The next Red Book variety is the big one the
1955 doubled-die obverse. According to Lange,
"This variety was the first of its kind
generally recognized in the coin hobby, and no
one was quite sure whether it should be valuable
or not. Several years passed before these coins
acquired much of a premium, but they were firmly
established as a popular addition to the Lincoln
series by 1960."
The reason for the coin's popularity is obvious
if you've ever seen one. As Bowers puts it, "The
date and all obverse lettering are dramatically
So how did this famous variety come about?
According to Lange, "Like all doubled-die coins,
this one resulted when a working die was
improperly aligned with the working hub between
impressions. The result was two distinct
impressions rotated around one another with
respect to the die's center."
As to the release of the defective coins into
circulation, Bowers describes the process as
"I inquired at the Philadelphia 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 cents from other coining presses.
Late in the afternoon, a Mint inspector noticed
the bizarre doubled cents and removed the
offending die. By that time, somewhat more than
40,000 cents had been produced, about 24,000 of
which had been mixed with normal cents from
other presses. The decision was made to destroy
the cents still in the box, and to release into
circulation the 24,000 or so pieces which were
mixed with other cents. The Mint had no reason
to believe that those would attract attention or
have value with collectors. They were simply
viewed as defective coins."
In the 2008 Red Book, these "defective coins"
are worth $1,200 in Very Fine-20, $1,350 in
EF-40, $1,500 in About Uncirculated U-50, $2,000
in MS-60, $3,000 in MS-63, and $12,500 in MS-65.
As for the value in VF-20, this may be more
fiction than fact, as Lange writes, "This
popular variety is essentially unknown below the
Extremely Fine level, since it became valuable
within a few years of its discovery." Because
counterfeits of the 1955 doubled die are known,
you should only buy certified examples of this
Fivaz and Stanton describe another 1955
doubled-die obverse variety, but the doubling is
not nearly as dramatic. According to Fivaz and
Stanton, "Doubling strongest on IGWT [In God We
Trust], but slightly visible on LIBERTY."
Although this variety is rarer than its more
dramatic relative, its value is considerably
less. Fivaz and Stanton assign it a value of
$250 in MS-65.
The next Red Book variety is the 1956-D, D above
Shadow D. Bowers calls this 1956-D doubled D
mintmark and describes it as "The 1956-D cent
variety with the mintmark sharply doubled, first
punched too low (and now visible as a distinct
but somewhat ghostlike image).&" Bowers states
that the variety is scarce but not widely known.
Values in the Red Book range from $10 in VF-20
to $75 in MS65.
The next Red Book variety is both rarer than the
others we've discussed and much more valuable.
This is the 1958 doubled-die obverse, with just
two specimens known, according to the Red Book.
Other sources cite three examples, of which one
was graded MS-65 Red by the Professional Coin
Grading Service and another MS-64 Red by both
ANACS and PCGS. The former sold privately for a
sum "in excess of $100,000," and the latter sold
in 2000 for $57,500.
According to Bowers, "The doubling on the date
of this variety is very slight, but on the
lettering it is dramatic," but not as dramatic
as on the 1955 doubled die. Breen attributed the
discovery of the variety to Charles Ludovico.
Fivaz and Stanton indicate that they "still
believe this variety may never have reached
general circulation, and feel the chances of
anyone finding one virtually impossible."
As I indicated earlier, the remaining Red Book
varieties all involve Lincoln cents with the
Memorial reverse. Some of these are better known
and enjoy more general collector interest than
others. In the rest of this article, I'll focus
primarily on the following varieties: 1972
doubled-die obverse, 1983 doubled-die reverse,
1984 doubled ear, and the 1995 doubled-die
Before I discuss the various doubled-die
varieties listed above, I want to talk briefly
about a coin that "energized the hobby and set
off a nationwide treasure hunt&which ultimately
involved the general public. Countless
individuals received their first notice of the
coin collecting hobby from news stories
generated by this find." The Lincoln cent
variety that triggered this tsunami of interest
in the series was the 1960 small date.
As Bowers describes it, "in May, newspapers and
television programs across America carried
accounts of the fabulous, valuable, and rare
1960 Small Date Lincoln cents.&This electrified
the numismatic community. Accounts were
published of $50 face value bags (5,000 coins)
selling for $12,000 or more."
Unfortunately for all those speculators who got
in at the top, it turned out that the 1960 small
date Lincoln wasn't all that rare after all.
Lange estimates that somewhat more than 2
million pieces were coined before the Mint
enlarged the date. As a result, from the $9 the
variety was worth in 1965, it has dropped to
about $3 today, which was what Lange shows that
it was worth in 1980 and 1995.
The 1972 doubled-die Lincoln cent is another
story. Lange writes that this variety is second
only to the 1955 doubled die in the frequency
with which it is sought by Lincoln cent variety
collectors. According to Bowers, the 1972
doubled die created "a sensation soon after it
was released" and "became an instant 'must have'
coin for thousands of collectors."
In terms of numbers, different estimates have
been made by different authorities. John Wexler,
for example, suggests a figure of 75,000,
whereas Sol Taylor guesses that the number is
closer to 20,000. Bowers notes that there are
many counterfeits, so authentication by a major
service is a must.
Like the 1955 doubled die, the 1972 doubled die
exhibits strong doubling on the date and all the
lettering, although the doubling is not as
exaggerated as on the earlier coin. The current
Red Book gives the variety a value only in MS-65
($700), although the coin is certainly known in
1983 brought another major Lincoln cent variety,
the 1983 doubled-die reverse. According to
Lange, this coin was minted at either
Philadelphia or West Point, and he estimates
that the total number in existence may be less
According to Fivaz and Stanton, "The doubling on
this well known variety is very evident on all
reverse lettering with a spread toward the
south." As for its history, Breen attributes the
variety's discovery to John Barkanic in August
1983. He further reports that most of the coins
turned up around Lewiston, Pa. Sol Taylor later
added that another group surfaced in northern
Florida. The Red Book value is $300 in MS-65.
Lincoln cent variety collectors didn't have long
to wait for the next major variety, as 1984
brought a Lincoln cent, again minted in either
Philadelphia or West Point, with obverse
doubling. This is the famous doubled ear
variety. As Fivaz and Stanton describe it, "The
doubling on this variety is primarily evident as
a secondary earlobe south of the primary ear.
Doubling is also evident on the chin and beard."
Dealer Robert Brock estimated the population of
the 1984 doubled ear variety as 2,000, a figure
that Lange agrees with. Lange writes, "Though
rare, this variety seems to be slightly more
common than the 1983 doubled-die reverse variety
both in absolute numbers certified and in
condition rarity." Its value in MS-65 is $200,
according to the latest Red Book.
This is one of the few error varieties that I
actually own, as it was the last valuable
circulation find that I made. As I recall, I
read in Numismatic News that the 1984 doubled
ear was being found in some quantity in Jackson,
Miss., which is not all that far from where I
live. On a whim, I asked my wife if she had any
cents in her purse, and there it was a nice
uncirculated specimen. Years later, I sent it to
a certification service, which assigned it a
grade of MS-64 RB (Red Brown). Not bad for a
More recently, we have the 1995 doubled-die
obverse, which exists in much larger quantities
than the previous doubled dies I've discussed.
According to Lange, "it has been estimated from
the numbers seen in the marketplace that several
hundred thousand may have been coined."
The doubling is clearest on "LIBERTY" and "IN
GOD," although you need some magnification to
see it. This fact, plus the number available,
have combined to keep the price down to the
vicinity of the $45 the Red Book assigns it in
The history of the 1995 doubled-die obverse
begins with its discovery by Felix Dausilio.
According to Fivaz and Stanton, "this variety
received the quickest, most widespread
recognition of any variety when it appeared on
the front page of USA Today, sending us on a
nationwide treasure hunt."
Note that I've merely scratched the surface in
my discussion of Lincoln cent varieties. Books
such as Fivaz and Stanton's The Cherrypickers'
Guide and Bowers' A Guide Book of Lincoln Cents
describe many more. If you're into cherrypicking,
the lengthy Lincoln series provides a veritable