This article was originally printed in Numismatic News.
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A fourth specimen of the elusive 1992 Philadelphia Lincoln cent struck with a “Close AM” (of AMERICA) design style reverse has been reported to this author. Numismatic News reader Robert Menke found it while he was recently searching circulated rolls of Lincoln cents obtained from a local bank. The coin has the potential to be worth $5,000.
The variety, which had become almost mythological due to its apparent rarity and the time span between the first and a second specimen being reported, was first listed in Brian Allen and my book, Strike It Rich With Pocket Change 2nd edition (published by Krause Publications in 2006) with a possible value of $5,000 for an About Uncirculated specimen and $10,000 or higher for an uncirculated specimen.
Until the later part of 2009, I had been the only hobby specialist/examiner who has seen a physical example of the variety. In September of that year a second specimen finally surfaced from NN reader Kie Brown, which I reported upon in NN in late September of that year. That one was sent to Professional Coin Grading Service of Newport Beach, Calif., shortly after I examined it and was graded Mint State-62 Red (MS62RD).
Another specimen was reported to me shortly afterwards by NN reader Bruce Jaeger, who had his graded by Numismatic Guaranty Corporation of Sarasota, Fla, as About Uncirculated-55 Red and Brown (AU-55 RB). Jaeger sold it a few months later in the Bowers and Merena Orlando Auction on Jan. 5, 2010, for $4,830, which is the only specimen I’m aware of changing hands in an auction.
The third edition of Strike It Rich With Pocket Change (just released earlier this month) states that there are four known examples but I personally have only seen three (including the one featured here) and am aware of the fourth that was auctioned off by B&M that I never personally saw. Nonetheless, seven are listed as having been certified between PCGS and NGC in a variety of grades. The total number that exists could be smaller if some of the coins were crossed over from one service to the other and are being counted twice (as is very often the case).
Parker Ogilvie of Massachusetts found the first example of the variety back in March of 2006, which he, like Brown and Menke, located while searching circulation change.
The most apparent diagnostics of the variety are the close spacing of the AM of AMERICA (which virtually touch each other at their lower serifs) and Frank Gasparro’s designer’s initials, FG, spaced significantly further from the Lincoln Memorial building than found on the reverse of the Wide AM variety.
As I have done with all examples I have seen to date, to be 100 percent sure Menke’s coin was actually what it appeared to be, I 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 cent.
Its weight and diameter were also checked and found to be within normal tolerances. 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 third example seen by me of VCR#1/DVR#1 (the listing number I assigned to the coin in 2006). This latest find probably grades around AU-55 or better.
One of the more interesting aspects of Menke’s find that he revealed is that he was not even aware of the existence of such a variety from the Philadelphia Mint. While he is an NN reader, he missed my articles on the first two Philadelphia specimens that I wrote about, but was aware of the Denver Mint version of the same variety due to its being included in Numismatic News’ Coin Market pricing section found in the first issue of every month. He said that even though the Philadelphia version was not listed there, he decided to flip the coin over anyway to see if it might have a rotated reverse or some other sort of error and just instinctively looked at the AM of AMERICA to see if it was a struck from a Close AM style die, that he was aware of existing on a small number of Denver emissions. He said he was extremely excited to find a variety that he did not even know existed.
Menke is 56 years old and has collected coins since he was 10. The Morgan dollar was the first coin to captivate his interest. By the 1980s he ran into fellow coin enthusiast, Dave Stutzman, who was very well known and very active in the error-variety hobby in those days and eventually got interested in that aspect of the hobby, enjoying the thrill of finding treasures in common pocket change.
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 style Close AM dies before they were actually scheduled for use the next year, which the evidence suggests were intended to be introduced in 1993. Often times 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 to the Mint.
Denver’s Close AM’s
A very small number of examples of the “Close AM” reverse are also known on the 1992 Denver issue. At the time of this writing only 16 examples in all grades have been certified between Professional Coin Grading Service and Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (which, again, may actually represent a smaller number of total certified coins due to crossovers).
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 occur on the proofs too.
Philadelphia Wide AM
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 a January 2001 report where 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.
Conversely, much later in 2005 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.
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 Brown.
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.
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 has been found.
If you’d like to search for the scarce to rare Wide AM 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 2008 business strikes and a Close AM on 1994 through 2008 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 website at www.koinpro.com.