The 1913-S Lincoln cent has always been seen as a better date. That said, the 1913-S was always lumped together with other San Francisco dates from 1910-1915, which was unfair to all of them, but at least today in MS-65, the 1913-S seems to be coming into its own as a special and tougher-than-expected early Lincoln.
It was natural for other generations of Lincoln cent collectors to consider the San Francisco dates from 1910-1915 as a group. As those collectors tried to assemble Lincoln cent sets from circulation, they knew that the 1909-S VDB was an almost impossible challenge. They also knew the 1909-S, 1931-S and 1914-D would all be tough. Then there would be the San Francisco dates from 1910 through 1915 and while certainly tough, with a little bit of luck, you might find them all.
What the San Francisco dates from 1910-15 had in common was that they all had mintages of less than 7 million and sometimes below 5 million. For a cent, those were extremely low totals and with years of circulation, you just could not count on finding a date like the 1913-S in regular circulation.
In reality, the 1913-S was one of the more available dates of the group and that is still seen today in its G-4 price of $6.50, the lowest of the group ? a full dollar below the 1915-S and almost $10 below the 1911-S, which had the lowest mintage. The $6.50 price probably reflects a mintage of 6,101,000, which was the highest total for the group.
The collectors of the 1950s or earlier did not really see major divisions between the dates in the group. All were very tough to find in circulation.
One of the questions was just how tough the dates might be in Mint State. There were a lot of factors to be considered and none of them had certain answers. It was doubtful, for instance, whether there were that many back in 1913 collecting Lincoln cents by date and mint. Lincoln cents had come along at the time when the first cents were being produced outside of the main facility in Philadelphia. There had just been two Indian Head cents with mintmarks and in the case of Lincoln cents, while there had been San Francisco coins from the start, there had only been Denver mintages since 1911. The idea of collecting by date and mint was still something of a new idea.
The evidence that the 1913-S was not heavily saved back in 1913 can be seen in the prices. In MS-60, the 1913-S is currently $150, which is the same price as the lower-mintage 1911-S. In MS-65, the 1913-S at $5,500 is more than the 1911-S and more than most of the other San Francisco dates of the period. It would seem to suggest a lack of saving and possibly a lack of quality, as well.
Professional Coin Grading Service reports that the 1913-S has been seen about 73 times in grades of MS-65 and above, while Numismatic Guaranty Corporation has a total in MS-65 and above of 77 coins.
When compared with the other San Francisco dates of the period, the 1913-S emerges as one of the more difficult and that explains its price. As we have learned, the saving of Lincoln cents, especially in the highest grades, was not as strong as might be expected, so the 1913-S falls well short of being a key Lincoln cent in MS-65, as there are dates in the teens and 1920s that are tougher.
The 1913-S has turned out to be better than expected, going from the highest-mintage San Francisco dates of the period to one of the keys in top grades.