A dealer friend once called the 1955 doubled die obverse Lincoln cent ?the perfect error.? I thought he was kidding but the more I thought about it, the more I realized he was right.
How a 1955 Lincoln cent with distinct doubling of the date and lettering on the obverse can qualify as the perfect error requires a little thought. First, the doubling on the obverse is very clear. Another dealer once suggested to me that if you need magnification to see the error it will never be important. While some might want to dispute that idea, the fact is that if an average non-collector cannot look at the coin and see that something is not right the error will never get much broader attention.
The 1955 doubled die obverse had more going for it: very good timing. Back in 1955 the United States was a nation of Lincoln cent collectors. The ?baby boom? was just being felt in the hobby and a nearly endless stream of youngsters began appearing at the nation?s coin shops, nearly all of them collecting Lincoln cents.
Also, the entire hobby was alive with interest as 1955 was supposed to be the final year of coin production at the San Francisco Mint. That would later turn out to not be true, but in 1955 everyone thought they were seeing their last new S-mint coins.
It had not been all that common for collectors and dealers to check new issues for errors, but back in 1955 people were checking for everything. The 1955 doubled die obverse did not last long in circulation before it was discovered, and the news spread like wildfire.
Perhaps the most important element was that the 1955 doubled die obverse seemed to have a nearly perfect mintage.We aren?t sure what the exact mintage was, but the best guess is about 20,000. It was not found with any regularity, but there were enough that periodically another would turn up. The frenzy of the time gripped everyone.
In many cases speculation results in a coin going up and then down or perhaps nowhere in price. Certainly there was some speculation in the case of the 1955 doubled die obverse, but it has known only one price direction and that is up.
In 1998 it listed for $515 in XF-40, and today it?s listing in XF-40 is $1,450. In MS-65 the 1955 doubled die obverse was $14,500 in 1998, and today it is up to $38,500. Those are not normal increases for Lincoln cents of the period ? they are far better than the average Lincoln.
The 1955 doubled die obverse, by continuing to be a coin with enormous demand, has made an enormous difference not just in Lincoln cent collecting but especially in how we view errors. Before the 1950s there was not that much interest in errors except on the part of a few specialists. The idea of a nationally popular error was unknown, but the 1955 double die obverse changed everything. It?s price today suggest it remains the perfect error.