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Collector strikes it rich with ‘No S’

 A missing “S” mintmark on a 1990 proof set turns something ordinary into a very valuable and interesting numismatic rarity.

A missing “S” mintmark on a 1990 proof set turns something ordinary into a very valuable and interesting numismatic rarity.

Take a look at your proof sets. One collector who did so had a pleasant surprise and could be $10,000 richer as a result.

His story begins just as many other collector stories do. Over 25 year ago a Palm Coast, Fla., collector who wishes to remain anonymous purchased some mixed date proof sets. He put them away for many years before taking a closer look.

In one of those sets he discovered a rare 1990 “No S” proof Lincoln cent that he had no idea was in the batch of sets he had purchased.

About four years ago he had decided to start selling off some of his earlier acquisitions on eBay. He opened a previously opened box marked 1996 proof sets and found it to contain mixed dates. One was a 1990 that he decided to inspect. To his surprise the Lincoln cent had no “S” on it as all proof sets of that year are supposed to.

He then made contact with one and then a bit later two more entities that he felt would be interested in his discovery. He received no replies. He assumed the coin was rare but that there was little interest in it. He put it back into his safe deposit box.

Recently his interest was rekindled and he decided to search the Internet for yet another person who might be interested in his story. That person was me.

I have been writing a great deal lately about rare cents discovered by diligent collectors. My readers are always interested in hearing about new finds even when they seem to be nearly impossible. It has been many years since I’ve heard of a new specimen of this “No S” 1990 proof cent coin being found but as I always say “where there is one, there are usually more.” In this case there was one more in our anonymous collectors hoard of proof sets and the same possibility exists in many other collectors sets that have not yet been checked.

If you purchased 1990 proof sets. It is in your interest to give the them another look.

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It’s estimated that fewer than 200 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 on Aug. 4, 2007 for a Deep Cameo PCGS PR-69.

The Mint ceased the practice of adding mintmarks into 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. PCGS has certified 192 while NGC has certified 78. I could find no records for ANACS.

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 dealer’s inventory or even at some of the major auctions, where only a few examples make an appearance every year.”


The collector said of his find, “I knew about the 1990 ‘No S’ penny, but never in my wildest imagination did I ever anticipate opening that blue box and finding the gem of the Lincoln pennies. Yes, it was a 1990 ‘No S’ penny in pristine red condition. My heart stopped. I could not believe this could be still found. After sitting there holding on this case and verifying the missing mintmark probably 10 more times, it struck me, I had one of the most elusive coins one could possibly ever imagine finding – and I was sitting there looking at it,” he said.

“So , I guess no matter what you have in your hands you should always open it and be sure what is inside. Thank God I opened that particular box of mixed proof coins; just goes to show you there are still rare coins to be found, so keep looking, heh, you may be the next one to find a gem,” he said.

He plans to have the coin certified intact in the set and put it up for sale at a later date.

The 1990 “No S” proof Lincoln cent is among several other proof “No S” mintmark coins. These include the 1971 “No S” Jefferson nickel, the 1968, 1970, 1975 and 1983 “No S” Roosevelt dimes, and the 1976 “No S” Type 2 Eisenhower dollar.

It should be noted that the designation “No S” only applies to proof coins that should have had an “S” on them to start with.

This designation does not apply to any of the pre-1968 proof coins. Virtually all proof coins minted prior to 1968 bear no mintmark since they were minted in Philadelphia during an era when no mintmarks were used for the mother mint. Exceptions to this rule are the 1894-S Barber dime and the 1942-P Type-2 Wartime Jefferson nickels.

The 1976 “No S” Eisenhower dollar was minted in Philadelphia for reasons still not fully known. It is designated “No S” because all other proofs were made in San Francisco and bear an “S” mintmark.

Readers finding any new varieties are encouraged to report them to NN editor Dave Harper at

Ken Potter is co-author of “Strike It Rich With Pocket Change” and has been a frequent contributor to “Numismatic News” and “World Coin News” for many years. More information about the error club, CONECA, that he represents may be obtained from him at An educational image gallery can be found on his website at

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

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