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Reader hits jackpot with ‘No S’ cent

In less than a month since my lead story appeared about a reader finding a 1990 “Missing S” mintmark Lincoln cent in a proof set, yet another reader reported finding one.

The rarity was found by M. Soledad Rivano of Texas. She read the article and saw where we asked readers to report any new finds.

She actually found it in March 2017 shortly after she started collecting and is reporting it now.

It is all about the missing mintmark on the cent in the 1990-S proof set. There are fewer than 200 known, and the price depending on grade goes from $3,200 to $20,700. Is your set worth a look?

Rivano found it while attending her first coin show with her husband. She had seen a listing for the coin in the Cherrypickers’ Guide To Rare Die Varieties by Bill Fivaz and J.T. Stanton and decided to take a shot at finding one.

She said that on the first day of the show, her husband (who has no interest in coins) got bored after a couple hours and they went home. She decided to go back the next day without him to check for varieties.

That turned out to be a very smart decision. She found the “No S” cent in a proof set at a dealer’s table. She said she alerted the dealer of the fact it was a “No S” cent in the set but that the dealer just said the “S” stands for San Francisco and sold her the set for $5.

Rivano said she started collecting a few months ago.

In a Facebook message to me, she said:

“I finally decided to go through a very long-kept jar of coins my husband had thrown his spare change into for about 15 years. It was a five-gallon plastic water bottle over half full. It was very heavy, and my intent was to package up the coins and cash them in.

“When I started this, I got interested in the age of some coins thinking they might be worth something. I did find some older ones and started researching on the Internet what years might be valuable.

“I discovered that it wasn’t just the age of coins that made them valuable, it was other things like mistakes and rare coins of many kinds.

“I bought a book and some better magnifying equipment and started looking more closely. I didn’t find much of value in the change bottle, but now I wanted to dig deeper and decided to get coins from local banks and buy from eBay. I’m hooked on the hobby [now].”

It’s estimated that fewer than 200 proof 1990 “No S” cents are known with estimates of values on PCGS CoinFacts ranging from $3,200 to $10,000 for Proof-65 to Proof-69 PCGS-graded coins. The record price paid for one was $20,700 at a Bowers & Merena auction Aug. 4, 2007, for a Deep Cameo PCGS PR-69.

The Mint ceased the practice of adding mintmarks to the individual proof dies by hand in the mid-1980s and began punching the mintmarks into a separate Master Die for San Francisco and from there making the working hubs and working dies with the mintmark included. This should have eliminated the possibility of a proof die escaping the Mint without a mintmark. However, in this case a Mint worker took a die intended to be processed as a business strike working die and processed it as a proof die, shipping it to the San Francisco Mint with other properly processed dies where it was overlooked until caught several hundred coins into its run.

The Mint acknowledged finding “No S” cents in a run and destroying 145 of them. Obviously, more got away from them than they caught and this is the latest one to be brought to light. The Professional Coin Grading Service has certified 192, while Numismatic Guaranty Corporation has certified 78.

It should be noted that many coins get submitted and graded more than once by owners hoping to receive a higher grade on a resubmission. Additionally, graded coins are often crossed over to another grading service for the same reason or due to owner preferences of one service over another. Thus, reported population totals are almost always higher than the actual number of coins graded.

According to Jaime Hernandez, PCGS Price Guide editor, in his series, The Top 100 Modern Coins, “The estimate of less than 200 coins existing is due to the simple fact that these coins are seldom encountered. For approximately 20 years, the approximate figure of fewer than 200 coins extant has remained somewhat stable. For years, there have not been any reports of more 1990 No S proof Lincoln cents being discovered. The majority of 1990 proof and Prestige sets have been inspected. Dealers, collectors and cherry pickers of both modern and classic coins are well aware of this variety, especially, since it commands thousands of dollars even in the lowest grades. Lastly, this coin is hardly encountered in any major dealers inventory or even at some of the major auctions, where only a few examples make an appearance every year.”

Remember, where you find one, there is usually more. Many 1990 proof sets remain unsearched.

My suggestion to readers is to check your sets if you haven’t done so before. Try searching for this one at coin shows, too. You never know, you might get lucky!

If you do find one, email David.Harper@fwmedia.com.

 

This article was originally printed in Numismatic News. >> Subscribe today.

 

More Collecting Resources

• Is that coin in your hand the real deal or a clever fake? Discover the difference with U.S. Coins Close Up, a one-of-a-kind visual guide to every U.S. coin type.

• The 1800s were a time of change for many, including in coin production. See how coin designs grew during the time period in the Standard Catalog of World Coins, 1801-1900 .

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