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No longer unique: Second Close AM 1992 cent found

A second known specimen of the elusive 1992 Philadelphia minted Lincoln cent struck with a “Close AM” (of AMERICA) design style reverse has been reported. Kie Brown of Gales Ferry, Conn., found it while searching circulated rolls of Lincoln cents on July 24.

The variety, which has become almost mythological due to its rarity, is listed in Brian Allen and my book, Strike It Rich With Pocket Change, second edition (published by Krause Publications earlier this year) with a possible value of $10,000+ for an uncirculated specimen, which I freely admit may be far lower than it is actually worth.

Up until now, I have been the only hobby specialist/examiner that has seen a physical specimen of the variety. This latest specimen will be the first examined by other hobby experts. It was sent to Professional Coin Grading Service of Newport Beach, Calif., shortly after I examined it. In a check with an insider at PCGS Sept. 10, I learned that the coin had not been graded yet.

He said: “I showed it to one of the graders and they thought it was MS, [Mint State] so that is good news.”

Parker Ogilvie of Massachusetts found the first example of the variety back in March of 2006, which he like Brown, located it while searching circulation change.  Ironically, I had just spoken to Ogilvie a few days before the Brown specimen was reported and we both concluded that it appeared that his find was still unique.

How things can change in just a few days.

What was almost becoming mythological, even in my own mind, was all of a sudden reaffirmed with a second specimen, which at the very least gives all collectors a greater hope that they too may be able to own one someday.

Brown said of his find: “I went to my favorite bank and bought them out of [rolls of] customer [supplied] nickels and [$100 face value in] cents. While searching that evening I was highly disappointed with the way things were going. The nickels were great lots of pre 1960s but the cents were atrocious. As I was searching these rolls it seemed rather obvious that they had previously been searched and returned, I was only finding 1 or 2 percent copper. I had only found two Wheat-backs when I would have typically found 20 or 30, and the coins that are typically searched for errors were clumped together by date and mintmark in the rolls while all other dates were widely scattered throughout. If it wasn’t for my practice of separating the coins by decade for later searching I would have stopped and returned the coins to the bank without finishing. I was three-quarters of the way through the next to last roll when I found the Close AM cent; my heart started beating really fast, I set it down and continued with the rest of the roll and the last roll, then I picked it up and looked again at both the date and the AM (I have been fooled by an incorrect date before while searching). [The Close AM reverse is normal to all the business strike dates from 1993-present].  I went upstairs, got a cup of coffee and came back down and looked at the coin a third time.  At this time I was convinced, so I scanned both sides of the coin and posted it on the Coin Collectors Forum [on the Internet] for scrutiny. After several people looked at it and a few back and forth discussions with more pictures it was recommended that I contact you and see about having the coin authenticated and attributed.”

Brown has been collecting for two years and is currently serving his 28th year in the U.S. Submarine Service.

When his coin arrived, I did the necessary authentication. The close spacing of the AM of AMERICA and Frank Gasparro’s designer’s initials, FG, spaced significantly further from the Memorial building than found on the Wide AM variety – confirmed that it was in fact the Close AM variety that Brown claimed (there are also other minor differences between the Close and Wide AM designs too detailed to describe here).

To be 100 percent sure it was actually what it appeared to be, I then examined it microscopically to make sure it was not created in a like manner to the often encountered double-headed or double-tailed novelty coins that are created by altering two genuine coins to make one. Precision lathing can make such alterations almost undetectable to the average observer but a close examination revealed that none of the characteristics diagnostic to these secondary-market “magician’s coins” was present on this coin. Its weight and diameter were also checked and found to be within normal tolerance.

Based on the results of my tests, it is my opinion that the coin is genuine and I have entered it into the Variety Coin Register as the second example known to me of VCR#1/DVR#1 (the listing number I assigned to the coin in 2006).

Interesting, like the Ogilvie specimen, the surfaces of Brown’s specimen were lightly blistered, a characteristic of substandard copper plating often seen on the copper-plated cents produced since mid-1982. These blistered or pimply surfaces are the result of contaminated electrolyte used in the barrel plating process in which foaming may occur if anti-foaming agents aren’t introduced at the appropriate time intervals, or the electrolyte changed frequently enough.

Such minor defects are normally ignored by the Mint and considered inherent to many of the post mid-1982 cents by collectors. This characteristic often runs through batches of planchets sometimes with different characteristics between batches (such as the average size or density of the blisters and/or in combination with varying degrees of brassy surfaces).

The very similar appearance of the plating on both coins suggests they were most probably struck at the same time from the same batch of planchets.  Unfortunately, the plating characteristics made it impossible to record reliable die markers beyond the obvious fact they were stuck with a Close AM reverse die so I cannot positively state they are both from the same die pair but I assume the chances are very strong that they were.

 
Why so rare? Is it a test strike?

Some might ask why this coin is so rare. I speculate that the issue was possibly struck at the end of 1992 to test the new Close AM dies before they were actually scheduled for use the next year, which the evidence suggests were intended to be introduced in 1993. Oftentimes small changes in design can result in major striking problems such as recurring areas of premature die breakage or poor die fill, so testing such dies at one or more of the minting facilities prior to their actual date of introduction is advantageous.

 
Denver Close AMs

A very small number of examples of the Close AM reverse is also known on the 1992 Denver issue. So far, only 15 examples in all grades have been certified between Professional Coin Grading Service and Numismatic Guaranty Corp. Only eight of these coins are Mint State. No 1992 Philadelphia Close AM cents have been graded by either service (though, as noted earlier, the second specimen is at PCGS for grading at the time of this writing).

All years of circulation and proof Lincoln Memorial cents dated prior to 1993 carry a reverse design style that exhibits the AM of AMERICA spaced wider apart to a greater or lesser degree. To date, 1993 is the only year apparent that the Close AM style was intended for use on both circulation and proof cents. From that point forward, the new Close AM style dies were reserved to strike circulation coins and the older Wide AM style was maintained for the production of proof cents, though as we can see here, a few mix-ups did occur.

 
Philadelphia Wide AMs

John A. Wexler first described these design style variations and the fact that the Wide AM style was then apparently being considered by the Mint as a “proof style reverse” in early 2001 when he announced that a 2000-dated business-strike cent had been discovered mated with one of the Wide AM proof-style reverse dies. Presumably, it had inadvertently been processed as a business strike die and got used as such.  Soon afterward 1998 and 1999 specimens were found with the Wide AM proof-style reverses.


Proof variations

Much later in 2005 converse varieties were discovered on a small number of 1998-S and 1999-S proof Lincoln cents.  These coins contained a Close AM reverse from dies intended for business strike (circulation) coinage apparently mistakenly processed and used as proof dies.


Values

Mint State grades of the varieties range in price from about $35 to $75 for the 1998, $25 to $50 for the more common 2000 and about and $500 to $1,000 for the rare 1999 Wide AMs.

The most recent 1992-D Close AM cent to be sold was auctioned off as Lot 1203 in Teletrade Auction 2690 on May 10, 2009, for $2,900. It was graded by PCGS as Almost Uncirculated-53 BN.

The 1998-S and 1999-S Close AM proof cents have been trading from between $1,000 to $1,500 and $200 to $850, respectively, spanning grades from Proof-63 through Proof-69. There are no reported sales of a 1992 Close AM cent. Only one coming up for sale and trading in auction will accurately determine collector demand and value.

I should note that the 2000-S Close AM proof cent listed in the Cherrypickers’ Guide to Rare Die Varieties, fifth edition Volume 1 by Bill Fivaz and J.T. Stanton is a typographical error. The listing was supposed to be for the 1998-S Close AM. I can state this with some authority since I was the one who supplied the information and images for the entire Close and Wide AM varieties listed in that edition. While I certainly would not rule out the possibility of a 2000-S proof Close AM cent existing, to date, none are known.

If you’d like to search for the scarce to rare Wide and Close AM varieties, check all dates from 1992 through 2008. There may still be some new discoveries to be found.  Look for a Close AM on 1992 cents including proofs, (a proof is yet to be found), the Wide AM on the 1993-P-D-S issues, (I have an unconfirmed report of one Wide AM found on a proof cent), a Wide AM on 1994 through current business strikes and a Close AM on 1994 through current proof cents. Images of both the Close and Wide AM varieties are shown here. Let me know what you find!       

                   
 
Ken Potter is the official attributer of world doubled dies for the Combined Organizations of Numismatic Error Collectors of America and for the National Collectors Association of Die Doubling. He also privately lists other collectible variety types on both U.S. and world coins in the Variety Coin Register. More information on either of the clubs or how to get a coin listed in the Variety Coin Register may be obtained by sending a long, self-addressed envelope with 61 cents postage to P.O. Box 760232, Lathrup Village, MI 48076, or by contacting him via e-mail at KPotter256@aol.com. An educational image gallery may be viewed on his Web site at www.koinpro.com.
 

 

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