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1941-S cent not so hot upon release

This article was originally printed in the latest issue of Numismatic News.
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To kids growing up in the 1950s and 1960s, to say the year “1941” out loud didn’t seem complete without saying “Dec. 7” before it.

As you know, that is the date the Japanese Empire attacked America’s Pacific fleet laying at anchor at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii on what had been a tranquil Sunday morning. World War II had started.

For Lincoln cent collectors, the year is interesting but much less dramatic. None of the three cents struck that year are scarce, but the 1941-S at $24 in MS-65 condition stands out as a desirable coin when compared to other dates of the 1940s. Only the 1942-S at $26 is more expensive among the non-error circulating cents produced during the 10-year period.

The 1941-S also compares well to the San Francisco issues of the 1930s. After “S” output hit bottom with the 1931-S cent at 866,000, demand for coins during the Depression was so low that San Francisco output fell further – to nothing – for four years. San Francisco didn’t make another cent until 1935, two years into the New Deal of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

The mintages of San Francisco cents 1935-1939 are far lower than the 92,360,000 total for the 1941-S. The 1935-S total is 38,702,000, the 1936-S is 29,130,000, the 1937-S is 34,500,000, the 1938-S is 15,180,000 and the 1939-S is 52,070,000.

Of those dates, only the 1935-S at $55 and the 1938-S at $26 are more expensive than the 1941-S.

What’s going on? Why should the 1941-S rank so highly on the list of prices?

Checking the Numismatic Guaranty Corporation’s grading census only deepens the mystery.

Where there are 248 MS-65 Red 1935-S cents listed in the census, the 1941-S total weighs in at just 72.

The census would seem to indicate that the scarcer coin is the 1941-S. Certainly it is if we only consider these numbers, but there is more going on here.

Because the value of a 1941-S cent that doesn’t make the MS-65 Red designation is so low, and doesn’t pay the cost of submitting it to a grading service, it is likely that there is a reluctance to send in the date for grading. The price of failing to make the grade is just too high. On the other hand, the values of the 1935-S at less than MS-65 Red fall more gently.

However, if we just move our eyes one column further right, we see that the census numbers change dramatically in MS-66 Red. The 1941-S shows 1,047 graded pieces while the 1935-S is just 251.

Those numbers look more like what we would expect when considering the mintage totals. The mintage of the 1941-S is about two and a half times higher than the 1935-S.

However, for those of us who filled a Whitman 1941-to-date cent album with the first San Francisco cent of the period, the 1941-S was so-so.

Sure, it had the magic “S” mintmark on it. That was good for something. It beat the heck out of the 1941 Philadelphia cent, which had a mintage of almost 10 times the 1941-S, but basically the San Francisco coin just wasn’t that hard to find in change. Had it been so, perhaps more collectors would have taken the time to find the best one they could.

To be fair, there really wasn’t much in the 1941-to-date album to keep a circulation finds collector interested.

That is perhaps the strongest reason why the MS-65 price is as high as it is.

It sort of makes you wish you had put aside an uncirculated roll, doesn’t it?


2011 U.S. Coin Digest: Cents
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