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Hoarding affected Lincolns in various ways

Gold and silver coins were not the only coins hoarded over the years. Even cents were. Most collectors can tell you the history of the introduction of Fractional Currency, or Civil War tokens, because Indian Head cents were hoarded during the Civil War. Lesser known stories involve the hoarding of Lincoln cents.

The Lincoln cent, which was first struck in 1909, stands alone in terms of popularity. Other issues such as Morgan dollars might be more popular today, but a century of dedicated collectors has made the Lincoln cent the most heavily collected coin of the United States in history.

With one generation after another of collectors, it is safe to assume that they have put high demand on the available supply of Lincoln cents unlike the demands on the supply of any other coin in history. Certainly the fact that generation after generation since 1909 has pulled Lincoln cents from circulation to include them in their collections has helped to supply those collectors who followed, but the fact remains that to meet the enormous demand for Lincoln cents over the years, more than the process of simply collectors saving one example of each date as they were released is involved.

Over the years there has been a wide range of very different Lincoln cent hoards. The collectors of the 1950s were especially prone to hoarding. It was partially a function of the 1950-D Jefferson nickel. By having a low mintage and then suddenly soaring in price, the 1950-D touched off a decade when at the drop of a hat collectors and dealers would save uncirculated rolls.

Some called it the roll craze and it was widespread. Some dates like the 1955-S, which was supposed to be the final Lincoln cent to be produced at San Francisco, were especially heavily saved. It also encouraged many that the 1955-S had the lowest Lincoln cent mintages since the late 1930s. At the time that combination was more than enough to see extremely heavy hoarding.

Of course hoarding is somewhat self-defeating if your goal is profits. The more coins that are hoarded, the greater the supply. For awhile the 1950-D Jefferson nickel seemed to fly in the face of that logic. With probably well over 50 percent of its entire mintage sitting in hoards, the 1950-D managed to still move to higher and higher prices.

Eventually, however, the hoards would be sold, and when they were, the market would have a problem absorbing so many Mint State coins of one date.

In many cases the goals of the hoarders were probably not helped by the government. There was solid growth in collector numbers in the 1950s and early 1960s and had such growth continued, there would have been a demand for addition numbers of Mint State Lincoln cents from all mints during the period.

The government action in 1965 of removing mintmarks stopped active collectors and discouraged new ones. There would be no mintmarks for three years and by the time they returned collecting as had gone on in the 1950s and early 1960s had changed completely. There was much less chance to assemble even most of the dates in a Lincoln cent set from circulation. Those sitting on rolls of uncirculated 1957-D cents were really sitting on coins with relatively little potential demand.

In other cases, such as with the new 1959 Lincoln Memorial reverse, there had simply been the sort of heavy saving that is seen with a design change. The 1959 and 1959-D would virtually always be in strong supplies although in that case specific case, no one had really considered profits.

Ironically, in 1960 Memorial design profits appeared as the 1960 small date cent produced at Philadelphia immediately became valuable with a price of a few dollars in Mint State. Q. David Bowers remembers and recounts in his book, American Coin Treasures and Hoards the 1960 small date was immediately popular.

He noted, “Several bags containing $50 face value (5,000 pieces) of this variety were obtained by various people from banks and sold immediately at sharp advances, some for $10,000 to $12,000. This was exciting news, and stories were carried in newspapers nationwide, in Time Magazine and on television.”

Nowadays among the circulation strikes, only the price in MS-60 for the small-date 1960 cent seems to make any sense. The $3 price compares to a 20-cent price for the large date. That seems logical. In MS-65, the two are virtually the same, which seems odd until you remember that collectors in 1960 were scrambling to save the small date and tended to ignore the large date. Only now can we see how the saving of the small-date cent has affected long-term value.

There was nothing new about collectors and dealers saving large numbers of new Lincoln cents. Bowers recounts in his book the story of a 1950s find in Endicott, N.Y., of assorted bank-wrapped uncirculated rolls of Lincoln cents from Philadelphia over the years 1910-1915.

Bowers was familiar with the hoard as he sold many of the coins at the time and the hoard has probably played a significant roll in providing Mint State examples of those early Lincoln cents, which normally would be in relatively short supply.

The one exception to the matter of short supplies from the early Lincoln cents would be the 1909 VDB. Released in the summer of 1909, the 1909 VDB as the first Lincoln cent was a heavily anticipated item. It was a change in the cent and at the time that would have the maximum impact among collectors of the day. Of course, there was an added feature that would basically magnify the interest in that the 1909 VDB was the first circulating coin of the United States to feature a famous American.

Prior to 1909, with the possible exception of the Lafayette dollar a few years earlier, which might have reached circulation in a few cases, no American would have seen a depiction of Washington, Lincoln, Jefferson or anyone else on a coin. The Lafayette dollar and other gold commemorative dollars also depicting famous Americans were not, however, seen in regular circulation, but the new Lincoln cent was likely to be found in the pocket of every American.

There are not any named hoards of extraordinary numbers of the 1909 VDB, but when the production was halted so the VDB could be removed from the reverse, that touched off additional widespread saving.
The mintage of just under 28 million pieces while ultimately low for a Philadelphia Lincoln cent was still large enough that everyone who wanted an example or a roll or more was basically able to get them. The numbers are unknown, but even recently it was still not that unusual to find original rolls offered.

That has kept the price very reasonable at just $25 in MS-60 while an MS-65 is around $195. For a coin of its importance, the 1909 VDB continues to be a reasonably priced coin and a popular one.

The real speculation at the time, however, was not the 1909 VDB but rather the 484,000 mintage 1909-S VDB. Of course, with a small mintage, acquiring any numbers of the 1909-S VDB was not easy. Moreover, it was not the habit of the dealers and collectors of the period to set aside large numbers of new issues in the expectation of higher prices at a later date. While it was not the habit, some made an exception in this case, especially John Zug, who allegedly had a hoard of 25,000 examples of the 1909-S VDB. We cannot verify that number and based on numbers today it seems large, but certainly Zug, who was in the mail-order coin business at the time, was an active buyer and his hoard of the 1909-S VDB sold off over time probably ranks as the largest.

There were, however, scattered reports of other small holdings of the 1909-S VDB. In his book, Bowers recounts the story of Art Kagin who in the early 1950s purchased 10 rolls at $500 per roll. At the time, Kagin felt strongly that the seller had more as singles began to appear shortly after the transaction at $12 to $15 each. The number involved in this case can be supported by the numbers seen at grading services today. The 1909-S VDB is graded in fairly large numbers considering its price. It is one of the few cases where the demand is so great that it overwhelms even a larger supply than would normally be the case at the prices currently listed.

The 1914-D is perhaps the date most often identified as the key Lincoln cent in MS-65 or above. That said, there is still at least one report of a hoard dating to the 1970s when two rolls were reported in Hawaii or the Philippine Islands. This is a case where Bowers did see a couple of the coins involved, unlike an earlier report from the 1950s of 700 pieces. Bowers reports that the coins he saw were “spotted red and brown.” It is possible this hoard helped the Mint State supply of the 1914-D generally, but perhaps not the supply of MS-65 or better examples specifically.

Most years there have been reports of at least a roll of two, although the 1920s were not a time of heavy saving, and as a result, a number of dates especially mintmarked pieces from 1921-1924 in MS-65 are very tough after having been overlooked for years.

Circulated Lincoln cent hoards, however, are also known. The “New York Subway Hoard” purchased by the Littleton Coin Company in the 1990s had 44 examples of the 1914-D. It’s not an enormous total, but the hoard contained basically no other cents, so at least someone at the time was aware of the scarcity of the 1914-D and kept them after finding them in circulation during the 1940s.

Corpus Christi, Texas, was the home of Maurice Scharlack and he turned out to be a major Lincoln cent hoarder. One of the dates he acquired by the thousands was the 1922-D primarily in circulated grades. They eventually reached the market, but with the demand for Lincoln cents always being strong, it has never been a problem for the market to absorb a few thousand pieces of a better date. One dealer friend whose company did a large retail business once casually mentioned that they had just purchased 12,500 examples of the 1924-D in various circulated grades. It sounded like a 10-year supply or more, but when I asked how long it would take to sell all 12,500, he replied, “Less than a year.”

That is how strong the demand can be for better date Lincolns.

Scharlack enters into another major hoard story. The Great Depression was just taking hold when collectors and dealers learned that the mintage of the 1931-S Lincoln cent was under 1 million pieces. One million is an easy number to remember as it is also easy to remember that in the history of small cents since 1857 the only dates with mintages below 1 million were the 1877, the 1909-S Indian and the 1909-S VDB Lincoln cents.

If there was any cent that might be called a sure thing, having a mintage below 1 million made the 1931-S a sure thing or the closest thing to a sure thing. Scharlack, according to Walter Breen,  assembled a hoard of the 1931-S which contained, “over 200,000 red uncirculated specimens, many weak.”

In fact, the size of the hoard is suspect. The totals of 200,000 would put it at more than 20 percent of the entire mintage. It would have also taken years for the market to absorb such a hoard, especially during the Great Depression.

That said, the hoard was probably very large and it was probably not the only one.

The 1931-S cent is certainly more available in XF-40 and up as well as Mint State grades than would normally be expected from a mintage of that small size. While the 200,000 number may be in doubt, the fact that heavy saving and hoarding occurred is not, and thanks to that saving, the 1931-S is less expensive than might normally be the case today.

You won’t find many price guides with price listings for the 1955 doubled-die obverse in a lot of grades for a very good reason. You simply won’t find many, if any, examples of the famous 1955 doubled die in any grade below XF-40. There is a good reason, which is simply that all over the nation people searched frantically trying to find the 1955 doubled-die obverse.

The 1955 doubled die was in the words of one dealer the “perfect error.” It could be easily spotted without magnification and secondly it had a high enough mintage estimated at perhaps 20,000 so that while rare it was being found by average collectors and dealers.

Errors frequently have trouble gaining acceptance simply because they are too rare, so they can never be promoted, but with perhaps 20,000 pieces struck, the 1955 doubled die could be found in sufficient quantities and dealers could stock and promote it.

An excellent example of the situation is that Q. David Bowers and his partner James F. Ruddy at the time advertised to buy the 1955 doubled-die cent in newspapers in New York and Massachusetts where the 1955 doubled die was first discovered. It was a success. as Bowers observed, “At one time 800 pieces were on hand.” That is just one example, but it points to the fact that early saving and hoarding of the 1955 doubled die have made it an important coin that can be found in upper circulated grades and in Mint State.

In the case of many hoards a little or sometimes a lot of luck helps. That could be suggested as a factor in the hoard of 1972 doubled die cents of Georgia dealer John Hamrick. His hoard of the 1972 doubled die was one of the largest. It was estimated to have a mintage of probably fewer than 20,000 pieces.

At the time Hamrick heard of the 1972 doubled die, he realized he had a number of unsearched bags of 1972 cents in the trunk of his car. As it turned out, those bags produced a large number of the 1972 doubled-die cent.

Other original and unopened bags provided large numbers of the later 1995 doubled die cents, but, of course, collectors and dealers were busily tracing the dates on bags at the time to find out which were most likely to contain the doubled die.

A national treasure hunt occurred as many bags were searched. Numismatic News staff members Dave Harper, Bob Wilhite and David Kranz even joined in and searched a bag. They reported the results in the paper. Kranz turned out to be the lucky one. The bag contained just one doubled die and he was the one who found it.

The 1995 doubled die seems to be more available than the early doubled dies. Its price is lower than the 1955 and 1972 doubled dies. At $30 in MS-60 and $50 in MS-65, virtually any collector who wants one can buy it.

Even at its lower prices, those finding examples in bags thought to contain just regular dates had to be happy.

Over the years there have been countless other hoards, including hoards sometimes in the millions of mixed date Lincoln cents. Normally speaking such hoards do not produce many, if any coins of significant value, but the fact remains that with the continuing demand for Lincoln cents there is always a need for new supplies of most dates.

Fortunately, over the years hoards have provided many of the better dates needed and that trend is likely to continue.            

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