Dr. Sol Taylor

America’s Longest Running Coin Design

By Dr. Sol Taylor
"Making Cents"
Saturday, September 15, 2007

he Lincoln Cent is approaching its 100th year of issue, making it by far the longest running United States coin design and probably much longer than any foreign coin design — bettering the Queen Victoria issues that ran from 1939 to 1901.
    The Lincoln Memorial reverse, starting in 1959, will soon be 50 years old — and will be replaced by four selected designs of the Lincoln era.
    Of all our circulating coins, perhaps the Memorial-reverse Lincoln cent is the most likely series to be completed strictly from circulation (less any major varieties). In an average of 1,000 coins selected from the bank, store, piggy bank or any other source, one can find 95 percent of all dates and mint-marked coins released for circulation from 1959 to date.
    Since 1975, the "S" mint coins were only released in proof sets and thus do not count as "circulation" coins — although some no doubt wind up being spent and found in change. I have found a few over the years.
    In 2009, a new reverse series will replace the Lincoln Memorial — if only for the year 2009. Like the Jefferson four-coin series of 2004 and 2005, the 2009 Lincoln cents will be circulating commemoratives. They certainly could spur a revival in collector interest in the Lincoln cent series.
    Starting with 1959, the first collector obstacle is the 1960 small-date cent. Issued early in the year, it was modified to the large-date variety and only about 10 percent of all 1960 cents are the small-date variety and are rarely found in circulation. A mint state coin can be bought for about $3.
    The rest of the decade offers no major obstacles to finding coins in change. The "S" mint coins of 1968-1974 are not as common (in fact are getting rather scarce in change) but can be found in rolls at the bank, which usually are turned in by savers from long ago. The 1974-S is especially scarce in change but is available from most dealers for a few cents each in "brilliant uncirculated" (BU) condition.
    In 1970, two varieties were released — known as the small date and large date. The small date is quite scarce and rarely found in change. Likewise, the 1960-D small date is about 10 times scarcer than the large-date 1960-D cent but can be bought for about 20 cents in BU from most dealers.
    In the 1980s, all dates and mint-marked coins still circulate, although the 1986 coins are harder to find. The 1990-1999 coins are found in change with no real scarce dates in the group.
    The tough variety, namely the 1995 doubled die, is fairly scarce, but by now is not found anymore in circulation. Mint copies run anywhere from $20 up.
    Collectors in the East find "D" mint coins hard to find, while collectors in the far West find "P" mint coins equally hard to locate. When I travel to New York or Philadelphia, I buy a few rolls of cents at the bank and fill in many of the "P" slots in my various albums.
    Since the year 2000, no especially scarce circulation Memorial cents have been released, so this decade can be found in high end condition by scanning rolls from the bank.
    Collectors can still enjoy the hunt for all the Memorial cents in circulation and buy the scarce varieties and proof-only "S" issues from most dealers at modest prices.
    A complete album of BU Memorial cents is not only a joy to behold but an accomplishment. Perhaps when the cent is retired, it will have investment potential — but the mintage numbers are so high that only high investor and collector interest in the future will make that a reality.
    The newer Dansco and Whitman bookshelf albums provide the best album displays available for this series. If the coins are housed individually in Mylar or hard plastic holders such as those provided by PCGS or NGC, there are special album pages just for those holders. The choice is up to the collector, since cost is a factor.

    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.