A coin does not have to be scarce to be interesting and that is certainly the case for the 1968-S Lincoln cent. In fact, the 1968-S would seemingly be very basic in the minds of many as a modern issue, but realistically the 1968-S has a certain number of questions surrounding it and it may be a long time before all the questions are fully answered.
To understand the 1968-S it is important to go back to 1955. It was 1955 when, with some publicity, it was announced that the San Francisco Mint would be producing its last coins. There had been improvements at Philadelphia and Denver and the general feeling was that San Francisco was no longer needed.
Ending coin production at San Francisco was a big deal. It had been a century earlier when San Francisco had produced its first coins back in 1854. Along the way the mint produced some of the historic great rarities of the United States starting with the 1854-S quarter and half eagle, as well as the 1870-S Seated Liberty dollar, half dime and $3 gold. In later years there would be the 1894-S dime. By the 20th century there were no great rarities, but there were still great coins coming from San Francisco such as the 1901-S and 1913-S Barber quarters.
Even when the San Francisco cent mintage was high, it was almost always lower than the totals for Philadelphia and Denver and that meant that to the vast majority of the nation’s collectors, San Francisco was a very special mint, since it was the place which produced the low-mintage Lincolns.
For a while it looked like collecting was history. From 1965-1967 there were no mintmarks in a deliberate attempt to discourage collecting. That idea worked; with no mintmarks, the mintages were routinely high since the totals from Philadelphia and Denver were simply added together.
Then, in 1968, the mintmarks were returned and there was a surprise addition. The San Francisco facility had returned from the dead and was back on line making coins including proof sets with proof-only dimes, quarters and half dollars as well as business strike cents and nickels. It had always been the San Francisco cents which were special and that made the 1968-S especially interesting.
It also helped that the 1968-S was true to form with a mintage of 261,311,510 which was, by far, the lowest cent total of the year. Naturally, collectors that were still collecting saved the 1968-S, probably out of sheer joy more than anything else.
In fact, that mintage stands today as the lowest business strike cent since 1968, although the saved 1968-S is still very inexpensive at just $1 for a Proof-65. Even with the saving, those prices are very reasonable because the importance of the 1968-S in history is not really understood by many. For those who remember 1955 and the 1968-S, the role of the 1968-S will never be lessened. It was the proof that the famous mint in San Francisco had come back from the dead to begin producing interesting coins again.