Dr. Sol Taylor

The Elusive 1910 'VDB' Cent

By Dr. Sol Taylor
"Making Cents"
Saturday, May 10, 2008

n August 1909, the two United States Mints began releasing the new 1909 Lincoln cent — some 3/4-million from San Francisco and 26 million from the Philadelphia Mint. By the end of the first week, Chief Mint Engraver Charles Barber ordered production halted and all working dies with the initials "VDB" (Victor D. Brenner, the coin's designer) to be removed.
    It was evident to me, many years later as a serious collector of Lincoln cents, that many 1909 "no VDB" cents had abrasion marks on the lower reverse where the dies were tooled to remove the initials.
    Several hundred dies that were used, as well as hundreds of others awaiting use, were taken to the metal shop to have the initials removed. These dies were used later in the year to produce many of the new coins. In addition, new dies with no evidence of any initials came on line and produced the bulk of the remaining 1909 coins.
    I noted many years ago that many uncirculated 1910 cents also showed these same abrasion marks on the lower reverse.
    I concluded that some 1909 dies which had their initials removed were put into service in 1910 — since they saw so little (or no) use in the first week of August 1909.
    It was around 1964 that I concluded that it was possible that some 1910 cents might bear traces of the "VDB" initials if not carefully removed in 1909. I published an article to that effect in the Numismatic Association of Southern California's NASC Quarterly. At the time, no one had seriously explored the possibility, and certainly no one had found any 1910 "VDB" cents.
    It wasn't until 1985 that I found a 1910 cent in mint condition with traces of the "VDB." I sent it to Coin World. They returned it, uncertain if the marks were parts of the "VDB" or stray abrasion traces. No photograph was able to bring out the initial traces.
    About 1995, Bill Fivaz (coauthor of "Cherrypickers' Guide to Rare Die Varieties") sent a certified matte proof 1910 cent to the Society of Lincoln Cent Collectors with pretty clear evidence of a "D" in the proper location of the "VDB" initials. That coin has been sold at least twice since then. However, once again, no certification service would certify the initial.
    In an auction conducted by Bowers & Merena in the mid 1990s, Dave Bowers commented on a 1909-S VDB cent in the sale stating that the coin was originally listed as "1909-S." Later, under more careful scrutiny, it was evident that there were the tops of "VDB" on the reverse. He added that such faint "VDB" cents could easily pass casual inspection.
    In several conversations over the years, Bowers admitted it was likely that a few 1910 "VDB" cents could exist, and he would love to see one. The specimen I found in 1985 was sold to a Brooklyn coin dealer who agreed that the tops of the VDB were there, and he has since resold it to a collector.
    In the reference book on Lincoln cents by Flynn & Wexler, a full page is devoted to this enigmatic variety, and two photos which may actually show portions of the "VDB." To date, at least three other reputed 1910 "VDB" cents have been reported, but none has been certified by a major grading service. It is clear, however, that dies which originally had the "VDB" were used to produce coins in 1909 as well as in 1910.
    Once a clearly defined specimen is located, all my speculation and research may bear fruit.

    Dr. Sol Taylor of Sherman Oaks is president of the Society of Lincoln Cent Collectors and author of The Standard Guide to the Lincoln Cent. Click here for ordering information.