initials trigger 1909 cents debate
By Paul Gilkes
Two of the four Lincoln cents
issued for circulation during the 1909 inaugural
year of the small cent series bear the v.d.b.
initials of the coin's designer, sculptor Victor
David Brenner, on the bottom border of the
Images courtesy of HeritageAuctions.com. The
first two Lincoln cents to be issued in 1909
from the Philadelphia and San Francisco Mints
bear the initials of designer Victor D. Brenner
on the reverse, seen in close up to the right.
The initials were ordered removed from dies by
Mint Director Frank A. Leach five days after the
initial production was released into circulation
Aug. 2, 1909.
Brenner had initially hoped to have his entire
surname spelled out in the reverse location.
The 1909 Lincoln, v.d.b. cent registered a
reported mintage at the Philadelphia Mint of
27.995 million coins. The 1909-S Lincoln, v.d.b.
cent's mintage of 484,000 coins at the San
Francisco Mint represents the lowest circulation
output of any cent for the entire series to
Two other Lincoln cents a 1909 and 1909-S,
both without the v.d.b. were issued after Mint
officials reacted (or overreacted) to news
inquiries about Brenner's initials.
The eagerness with which the public awaited the
Aug. 2, 1909, release into circulation of the
first Lincoln cents was quickly overshadowed the
same day with the media's realization that
Brenner had signed the reverse with his
According to Roger W. Burdette in Renaissance of
American Coinage 1909-1915, on the afternoon of
Aug. 2, the Washington Star newspaper requested
a response from the Treasury Department
concerning the appearance of the coin designer's
Other newspapers began making their own
inquiries and publishing stories quoting
anonymous sources that the initials were illegal
advertising or were not supposed to be there.
Assistant Treasury Secretary Charles D. Norton
subsequently consulted Aug. 4 with Philadelphia
Mint Superintendent John H. Landis about the
Landis replied by telephone to Norton, and
followed up with a letter, indicating that U.S.
Mint Director Frank A. Leach had authorized the
initials on Feb. 27, 1909.
"The design, as completed, was approved by the
Honorable Secretary of the Treasury and the
Director of the Mint July 15 [sic, 14], 1909,
copy of which is also enclosed," Landis wrote in
his Aug. 4, 1909, letter to Norton.
"I would say that it was proposed that the
initial of Mr. Brenner's last name only be used,
but as this was the same as that designed by Mr.
Barber [Mint Engraver Charles E. Barber], it was
not distinctive enough and the three initials
had to be used."
Norton became involved in the controversy when
Leach's resignation was accepted on July 31,
The matter of Brenner's initials was handled by
Norton, MacVeagh and U.S. Treasurer Charles H.
Treat, with the advice of Barber.
Abram Piatt Andrew, who eventually succeeded
Leach, was intentionally excluded from any of
the discussions, according to Burdette.
On Aug. 5, 1909, MacVeagh informed Norton that
while there would be no cent recall, production
of cents with the initials was to cease
immediately. Norton suspended production on Aug.
5, with Barber dispatched to Washington, D.C.,
from Philadelphia to follow through with
During an Aug. 6 meeting between Norton, Barber
and Acting Mint Director Robert Preston, Barber,
according to Burdette, expressed his preference
for removing the v.d.b. initials entirely from
the working hubs from which working dies would
be made, rather than trying to engrave the
letter b into a "mother" (master) die.
Barber expressed his position that the letter b
could be easily engraved into the master die,
but the v.d.b. could not because the letters
were raised. Barber also believed that adding
the b would confuse the public into believing
the cent which he opposed from the beginning
and did not believe would be a successful coin
was his work, and Barber did not want to be held
Brenner didn't learn about the decision to
remove the initials entirely until asked for his
comments by newspaper reporters.
Preston issued the instructions on Aug. 7 to
Landis to have new dies prepared with Brenner's
Cutting new hubs which Barber had advised
would take two weeks took less than a day.
Production of the Lincoln cent sans Brenner's
initials subsequently resumed at the
Philadelphia Mint and San Francisco Mint.
The v.d.b. initials were placed incuse in
Lincoln's shoulder, next to the rim, beginning