This article was originally printed in Numismatic News.
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Maybe it should not be viewed as a competition, but it is hard to ignore the fact that the 1914-D and 1914-S are the two best date Lincoln cents in MS-65. It is also hard to ignore that they seem to keep changing in terms of how far apart they are in price.
Part of the situation can be traced to their past reputations. The 1914-S, with a mintage of 4,137,000, was one of the low-mintage San Francisco cents from the period prior to 1916. Any San Francisco Lincoln cent from that period was better since none had a mintage of even 7 million. While not sensations, these cents were high on the list of Lincoln cent collectors as they were tough.
While every San Francisco cent from the era was good, the Denver dates were only slightly better than average with the exception of the 1914-D, which had a mintage of 1,193,000. For a long time it did not get the attention it deserved as a tough date, then people discovered it was very tough to find an uncirculated example and suddenly the 1914-D was the key Lincoln cent in top grades.
Then it was discovered that the very same people who had not saved the 1914-D when it was released had also not saved the 1914-S. That meant that it too was extremely tough in top grades, perhaps as tough as the 1914-D.
Not only were these dates not saved in large numbers, but also no one was looking for an MS-65 of either as the idea of MS-65 would not even be invented for 35 years.
The 1914-S was one of the better groups of San Francisco Lincoln cents that were tough to find in circulation and we see that in its current price of $25 in G-4. In fact, it appears that fairly quickly, perhaps 20 years after it was released, the 1914-S was recognized as being tough in uncirculated condition as back in 1935 it was priced the same as the 1914-D.
Over time, however, the 1914-D became famous as the rarity in top grades. No one seemed to question whether the 1914-D and 1914-S were even close to one another. Back in 1998 the 1914-D was $1,000 in MS-60 and the 1914-S was $175. In MS-65, however, where the 1914-D really made its reputation back in 1998 it was $3,900 and the 1914-S was right behind it at $3,800.
Tracing the moves in recent years has been interesting as by 2002 both had soared to $10,000 in MS-65, which is the same relationship they had back in 1935 just much more expensive. In 2003, however, the 1914-D moved ahead to a price of $12,500. Then in 2004 it happened again as the 1914-D moved to $15,000, leaving the 1914-S at an historic price spread as it was still stuck at $10,000.
Today the price of the 1914-D has increased to $24,500 in MS-65 while the 1914-S has decreased to $9,350, further widening the price gap.
The immediate question is whether the two dates should be at the prices we see today. The Professional Coin Grading Service has graded about 79 examples of the 1914-D MS-65 or better, while the total for the 1914-S is just 48. The Numismatic Guaranty Corporation totals show the 1914-D is at 56 in MS-65 or better, while the 1914-S is at 38.
Clearly the grading services do not support the price spread between the two dates in MS-65. In fact, the grading services come closer to supporting the exact opposite relationship. The total numbers submitted are also far higher for the 1914-D, casting some doubt as well on the current MS-60 prices of $2,000 for the 1914-D and $300 for the 1914-S.
Of course the grading services are not the final decision-maker and the numbers can be misleading because one coin is graded more than once and perhaps at more than one service. That said, the totals support what was believed back in 1935 and what was seen in the 2002 prices. In fact, there is good reason to believe the 1914-S should be at roughly the same level as the 1914-D in MS-65, and that suggests a real price increase is in order for the 1914-S.