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Collectible Lincoln Varieties
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 varieties.

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 variety.

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 doubled-die obverse.

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 mint state."

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 right one.

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 without mintmarks.

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 final position.

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 doubled."

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 follows:

"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 variety.

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 obverse.

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 other grades.

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 than 2,000.

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 cent.

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 MS-65.

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 feast.

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