"A Penny For Your Thoughts" The Lincoln cent is now considered an "orphan" coin, an unwanted old piece of antiquated junk that nobody cares about. Pennies are often thrown away as worthless nuisances, or accumulated in jars or cans, and then given to some young child as a reward of sorts. There is nary a thing that can be purchased these days for one cent. (Every so often you hear of someone who tries to cash in ten or twenty thousand pennies!) This was not always the case. When the coin was introduced in 1909 (designed by Victor D. Brenner) it was warmly received as a memento to a great President. People waited in lines the day it was released. There were many things that could be bought for one cent: penny candy, the Penny Arcade, postage stamps and even some newspapers. During the 1920s, school children around the country saved their pennies to help with the restoration of the USS Constitution ("Old Ironsides") My, my--how times have changed! Now the cost to mint a penny has exceeded its face value! As the 100th anniversary of this classic coin approaches, we wonder just how secure its future really is.
Starting a Collection
The Lincoln cent has been minted for 99 years. A new design is scheduled for next year. There are different ways to collect these coins. This article will guide you to the choices that are available. You should obtain a Whitman or Dansco cent album to help you organize your collection. The albums are made to accommodate either type: Wheat or Memorial reverses. The following steps outline some suggestions.
Wheat Cents Part 1 (1909 to 1958) Minted at the Philadephia, Denver and San Francisco facilities
The obverse (front) side of the coin features the familiar picture of Lincoln facing to the right. The reverse (back) side of the coin has the inscription in large letters, "ONE CENT", with two wheat stalks aroud the edge on either side. This is an extremely difficult set to assemble, as Wheat cents have not circulated for years. Still, it can be done with great effort. You might find some old wheat pennies in your attic or a desk drawer. Maybe a relative has a jar of these coins. Yard sales abound. The Internet has offers for "unsearched" bags. Coin shows are a good source. Finally, the time may come to go to a dealer and check their inventory.
Wheat Cents Part 2 (Rare Pennies)
These cents will be an extreme challenge to find and will probably have to be purchased. They are the "keys" to this Series.
a. 1909 S VDB b. 1914 D (one of the great rarities of the series) c. 1922 "Plain" with no mint mark (Very rare!) d. 1931 S e. 1955 "Doubled Die"
Plain and Doubled Die are considered "error" coins and are not regular issues.
In 1943, "steel cents were minted because of the copper shortage due to the Second World War. A few copper pennies were struck erroneously in 1943, and a few steel cents were struck in 1944. These are considered extremely rare coins and have values well over $20,000 each!
Lincoln Memorial Reverse Part 1 (1959 to 2008)
Minted at the Philadelphia, Denver and San Francisco facilities
In 1958, President Eisenhower signed legislation to approve the design change for the Lincoln cent. Frank Gasparro, a Mint engraver designed the Lincoln Memorial reverse, which was released in 1959. Almost immediately, the Wheat cents began to disappear from circulation! Hoarders came out of the woodwork. The newer cents are much easier to find. The older dates ('60s and '70s) will provide a good challenge.
Lincoln Memorial Reverse Part 2 (Rarer Pennies)
As was the case for Wheat cents, there are some "keys" to Memorial reverse pennies. Although these are difficult to find, they are not as pricey as their older (wheat design) counterparts.
1971 S Doubled Die Obverse 1972 Doubled Die Obverse 1984 Doubled Ear 1990 S (Proof without the "S") 1995 Doubled Die Obverse
You will note that these Key dates are "error" coins and not part of the regular issues. The composition of the penny has changed over the years and this topic is worth researching on the Internet.
Year Set (Wheat and/or Memorial type)
Another way to collect this series is by the year only. Instead of trying for every penny minted, you will collect one coin for each year. If you were assembling the Memorial cents, you would start with 1959, 1960, 1961, and so forth--to the present. Purchase a blank Lincoln cents album and write in each year, progressively. This is a good way to introduce children to coin collecting.
Proof Cents (Specially minted coins)
Lincoln cents are included in the standard U.S. Mint proof sets. However, proof pennies may be purchased individually from dealers.
Proof sets were issued by the Mint from 1936 to 1942, and then discontinued until 1950. The Series was resumed in 1950 and suspended for three years (1965 to 1967). Finally, Proof Set production has been continuous since 1968. Proof cents command premiums, which are considerable for the 1936 to 1942 Series. Proof cents are collectible and very expensive for the early years. You will need a custom or blank album to house these coins. A better choice is to acquire graded proof cents (PCGS or NGC are recognized grading services). These come in their own unique holders or "slabs."