Littleton Coin Company’s Collector’s Corner

Changes Could Spark Lincoln Cent Desire


It’s been almost 50 years since there has been a design change on the Lincoln cent. But with the passage of Public Law 109-145 (the Presidential $1 Coin Act), things will be different. In addition to authorizing new dollar coins, the legislation signed into law by President Bush on December 22, 2005 will create some significant modifications to the cent denomination. That could have a big impact on collector interest in Lincoln cents.

The new law calls for changes beginning in 2009, which is also the 100th anniversary of the Lincoln cent. That year, there will be four different reverse designs issued for the Lincoln cent, each reflecting a different period in the life of Lincoln. The first will be his birth and childhood in Kentucky. The second will be his formative years in Indiana. The third will feature his professional life as a lawyer in Illinois, and the fourth will depict his presidency in Washington, D.C. This will make for a nice collection that will probably be a lot of fun for collectors.

The legislation does not stop there. There is a provision that could potentially mean a new reverse on the Lincoln cent starting in 2010. It might be worth remembering that Lincoln cent reverses thus far have gone in 50-year cycles, with the Wheat Stalk reverse seen on the first Lincolns lasting until 1959, when they were replaced with the Lincoln Memorial reverse. It is possible that the Memorial reverse will be continued, but the new law states that "the design on the reverse of the 1-cent coins issued after December 31, 2009, shall bear an image emblematic of President Lincoln’s preservation of the United States of America as a single and united country." That leaves the door wide open to any number of new design possibilities.

It may be too early to predict what will happen, as the law does not specifically require a new reverse. However, most seem to think the wording encourages a new design in 2010. If so, that means the end of the Lincoln Memorial reverse seen since 1959. While there is no set rule about the impact of such things, the fact remains that we have recently seen, both in the case of the 50 State Quarters Program and the special Jefferson nickels, that design changes have sparked a good deal of interest in the older designs that are replaced. People suddenly seemed to want a collection of the designs being phased out, and there is nothing new about that idea. Back in 1857 when the first Flying Eagle cent appeared, people suddenly wanted to assemble large-cent collections by date.

We cannot be certain there will be a new reverse on the Lincoln cent starting in 2010. If there is, the possibility is very real that it will inspire many to take a more serious look at the Lincoln Memorial reverse cent as a collectible. At the modest price levels today, many might be surprised at what fun they can have with these cents. Not only is there a regular collection to form, but Lincoln Memorial cents also include some great errors. Doubled dies were struck in 1955, 1972, 1983, 1984, 1995 and more. There were large and small dates in 1960 and 1982. 1982 also marked the beginning of the new copper-plated zinc composition, which is still in use today. Coins were struck in both the old and new compositions that year. Add to those possibilities the Proof-only San Francisco Lincoln cents produced since 1975, and you have a much more interesting and challenging collection than many might realize.

And it’s not just the Lincoln Memorial reverse cent that might make an impact. The legislation also calls for a 2009 cent to be struck (for numismatic purposes) in the same composition as the original 1909 Lincoln cent. It’s a natural, as no coin of the United States has ever reached the century mark in terms of production. What this will do is place the spotlight on the 1909 VDB, which was the first Lincoln cent produced. Attention might also go to the 1909-S VDB, which is perhaps the most famous Lincoln cent of all.

At minimum, there will be a 2009 cent in the original bronze composition. It would be natural to have this in a collection along with the 1909 VDB. When first struck, this coin was a sensation. For the first time, a circulating U.S. coin depicted a famous American. Though George Washington had appeared on the Lafayette dollar, that was a commemorative and few saw an example. However, the Lincoln cent was quickly in the hands – and pockets – of virtually every American. Fortunately, the mintage of 27,995,000 (which is really not very large for a cent) was heavily saved. So today, there are examples in Mint State, which will be perfect to display side by side along with the 2009 to celebrate the centennial of the design.

It is not required, but if both Proof and Uncirculated examples are produced, it is certainly possible that there will also be a 2009-S VDB. That would be a much more challenging pair, as production of the 1909-S VDB was cut short by the Secretary of the Treasury so that the artist’s controversial initials could be removed. A total of just 484,000 1909-S VDB cents were minted, meaning that it would forever be a tough and very famous date, desired by virtually every collector. Certainly the 1909-S VDB can be found from a company like Littleton, which usually has a wide selection of grades. However, there is no doubt that the 1909-S VDB is not available in large enough numbers to meet any significant demand.

Even if a 2009-S VDB is not minted, the fact remains that with the new issues surrounding the centennial of the Lincoln cent, there is going to be a lot of attention on both the 1909 VDB and 1909-S VDB. It simply is impossible to discuss one and not the other, as they were the first Lincoln cents. The coming centennial and the passage of the new law make it very clear that if you want a 1909 VDB or a 1909-S VDB, now is the time to act, before the rush. The same may well be true of Lincoln Memorial cents, as once the changes start appearing in 2009, it’s possible that we will be looking at a very different Lincoln cent market.