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Focus on Matte Proof Lincoln Cents
by Jaime Hernandez

The 1909 VDB Matte Proof Lincoln cent boasts one of the lowest survival rates of any proof or business strike Lincoln cent produced from 1909 to date. The delicate and stimulating matte finish, along with the scarcity of Matte Proof Lincoln cents has captured the imagination of both experienced and new collectors. For years, the 1909 VDB Matte Proof Lincoln cents were one of the most underrated and unappreciated series in the U.S. coin market. Today, they comprise one of the most explosive and irresistible items in a series that has really begun to take off.

The Matte Proof 1909 VDB cent will certainly make a wonderful addition to any numismatic collection. In fact, today very few of these unusual coins exist to satisfy the increased demand from collectors. Some major numismatic references list the 1909 VDB Matte Proof Lincoln as having a mintage of 420 coins, while others list it as having a mintage of 1,194. The latest PCGS population shows only 101 coins submitted in all grades combined. Whatever the correct mintage or survival rate is, it still remains the single rarest Proof Lincoln cent.

Many of the ungraded coins may have been lost or damaged years ago. Some coins in the Population Report may also be coins that have been resubmitted more than once, which may cause an inflated number of coins in existence. Despite these limitations, the Population Report is a good source to determine the most current scarcity levels.

A similar example of a coin being far scarcer than its mintage is the 1933 Saint Gauden's Double Eagle, which currently holds the record as the world's most expensive coin ($7.59 million). This coin has a mintage of 445,500 but only a handful are known to exist. Approximately 100 years ago, the United States Mint produced 1909 and 1909-S Indian Head cents (or more properly, Liberty wearing an Indian headdress). The Mint also produced 1909, 1909 VDB, 1909-S and 1909-S VDB Lincoln Head cents for circulation, plus Matte Proof versions of the 1909 and 1909 VDB cents.

This was definitely a busy and exhausting time for the U.S. Mint because of the high demand for the new design type. In total, the Mint produced nine different cents for this one year alone, not to mention all the coins of other denominations.

The obverse of the 1909 VDB Proof and all Lincoln cents issued to date depict the tallest of all U.S. Presidents (six feet, four inches). His portrait has now been circulating within our monetary system for nearly a century, dating back to the time of our great and great-great-grandparents. The classic Lincoln cent design was created by a talented medalist and numismatist named Victor David Brenner. Brenner's greatest masterpiece would become one of the most acclaimed and well-recognized depictions in American history. In his masterpiece, Brenner portrays Abraham Lincoln from a side angle, showing his recognizable beard and bow tie, which were originally inspired by a Civil War photo of Lincoln himself.

The story behind his recognizable beard is a fascinating one of its own. Before Lincoln was nominated for President, an 11-year-old girl by the name of Grace Bedell wrote him an inspiring letter. In her letter, she suggested that Lincoln "…would look much better and win the election if he had whiskers." As Lincoln traveled to the White House some time after the correspondence, he made a stop in Westfield, New York, the town where little Grace lived, and asked to meet her at the train station podium. To everyone's surprise, Grace was within the crowd. President Lincoln was finally able to meet her, greeting her with a kiss. He told her that he had taken her advice, showing her his now-stately beard.

Despite turning 100 years old this year, the Lincoln cent design has undergone some subtle and not-so-subtle changes. For instance, when viewing a high-grade 1909 Proof coin and comparing it to a newly issued Proof Lincoln cent, the design still looks almost identical except for some slight changes in Lincoln's hair and beard and improvement in the reflectivity of the surfaces. The look and appearance of a Matte Proof Lincoln cent is vastly different than the deep cameo, brilliant proofs of today. The Matte Proofs are unusual products from a bygone era. These great numismatic treasures now exist thanks to the dedicated and astute collectors who discovered and understood the scarcity of these coins. Many of these collectors had the foresight to pay high premiums in order to acquire some of these remarkable treasures even when there was no real demand for them.

About five years ago, most of the nine different Matte Proof Lincolns from 1909 to 1916 could have been located and bought at reasonable prices. At times, some of these coins would stagnate in a dealer's inventory with no takers. For instance, about three years ago at a local Long Beach show, I remember several dealers carrying Matte Proof Lincolns in their inventories. Some of these coins were the same exact coins in their inventory from the previous year. Their asking prices weren't unreasonable, but the coins just didn't enjoy the demand they carry today. One factor that probably influenced a major price increase is the 100th anniversary of this coveted series. Another factor may be the declining power of the dollar that has enticed new collectors into our wonderful hobby.

The Matte Proof Lincoln cent series has recently been actively promoted by some astute and knowledgeable dealers. One specific dealer, Brian Wagner from BWRareCoins.com, has persistently pursued attractive Matte Proof Lincoln cents exclusively in PCGS holders. Brian has been supporting a strong market for these coins for about three years now. Brian often pays multiples of the PCGS Price Guide prices for attractively toned examples. This is an important reminder that coins with great eye appeal or special attributes (such as toning) may often fetch prices well above the normal market pricing. When using the PCGS Price Guide, it is imperative to remember that listed prices are for PCGS-graded coins only. Matte Proof 1909 VDB Lincoln cents rarely appear on the market these days. When they do, make an effort to add this century old rarity to your collection. You'll be glad you did!


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