Friday, January 3, 2014

Lincoln cent: A classic for decades

Lincoln cent values have been climbing, as they are one of the most popular coins for people of all ages and have been for many years.

The very first Lincoln cents are now more than 100 years old, struck in 1909, which was also the last year of the Indian head cents.

The Lincoln wheat cent started off with two varieties in the first year, struck at Philadelphia and San Francisco branches of the US Mint, for a total of four first year issues. Both of the San Francisco issues, the regular type struck later in the year and much more so the "V.D.B." initials of designer Victor David Brenner at the bottom center of the reverse, are very rare and are among the coins with the highest value in the entire series.

Other dates of early Lincoln cents that have a high value are the 1914-D, the 1922 "plain" (also called the "no D" or "no mintmark"), the 1931-S, and the 1955 double die. Those are followed by all of the mintmarked coins at the very start of the series through 1918.

Due to a shortage of copper during the second world war, in 1943 the US Mint struck the Lincoln cent in steel at all three mint facilities. A very small number of 1943 copper Lincoln cents and 1944 steel cents (which are even rarer than 1943 copper Lincoln cents) were struck in error or possibly with the specific intent to strike extreme rarities. The metal content of the Lincoln cent did not change again until 1964, when 5% tin was replaced by 5% zinc.

After the change of the reverse in 1959 from wheat ears to the Lincoln Memorial, the next major radical change occurred in 1982, when in mid-year the US Mint switched from 95% copper, 5% zinc 3.11 gram Lincoln cents to 97.5% zinc, 2.5% copper Lincoln cents, the famous general circulation strikes of Philadelphia and Denver combined with small and large date making the famous "1982 7 variety set".

Once the Lincoln Memorial cent series became 50 years old, and therefore the entire Lincoln cent series reached 100 years old, special commemorative coins were struck. This will likely have a positive effect on the value of Lincoln wheat cents in particular, as now they are even older and even more special. And sometimes, they can be and are still found in general circulation (although less than many years ago). Even so, dates as far back as 1940 (Philadelphia mint, of course, coins found in Miami or New York) and occasionally earlier were still found by this author and others even through 2008 leading up to the 100 year anniversary of the Lincoln cent.

Even today, the best way to find Lincoln wheat cents for a cost of exactly one cent is still in bank rolls, but you may have to search more rolls than in the past. Make sure you are not getting rolls of new, recent coins by examining at least a small amount before going on your way out of the bank after getting the rolls. The best situations for this are getting rolls brought in to banks by local stores and businesses, as those are true "general circulation" and could contain some prizes of Lincoln wheat cents.

Whether collecting or investing or both, or somewhere in between, at least for high-grade uncirculated and proof coins and also rare coin dates, you may want to consider buying coins that are certified and graded by a third-party service, the largest of which are Numismatic Guarantee Corp. (NGC), Professional Coin Grading Service, (PCGS), and ANACS, although there are many others that vary widely in quality (that in itself could be a long separate post).

Many times it has been debated whether to discontinue the striking of the Lincoln cent and all one cent coins, and simply make all purchase and sale prices in 5 cent increments. Of course were that ever to become reality it would very likely result in an increase in value of Lincoln cents, and all cents, even if not immediately upon the announcement.

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