It is hard to be objective when it comes to the 1909-S Lincoln cent. It is either an awfully good coin or a very distant third in the best coins of that year. These two conflicting views help to explain why 1909 was such an interesting year for cent collectors.
Virtually all of the nation?s coin collectors in 1909 had only ever known the Indian Head cent, which had been around since 1859. The change to the Lincoln cent did not take place immediately in 1909. There would be an Indian Head cent mintage of 14,368,470 from Philadelphia and another of just 309,000 pieces in San Francisco. That 1909-S mintage would rank as the lowest regular mintage of a cent stretching all the way back to 1811. The 1909-S Lincoln cent was at a serious disadvantage since its total would not match that of the 1909-S Indian Head cent. The San Francisco mintage of the 1909-S VDB was at 484,000 pieces, and it became the cent every young collector wanted to find for many decades.
As far as I know there has never been a good way of explaining why the 484,000 mintage 1909-S VDB was such a national sensation while the 309,000 mintage 1909-S Indian Head cent was not.
The decision came in August to remove the VDB because the secretary of the Treasury did not like it. Shortly after, San Francisco began producing the 1909-S. The total mintage ended up at a low 1,825,000. The 1909-S VDB had a lower total and so did the 1914-D and the 1931-S, but otherwise the 1909-S is the lowest mintage regular date Lincoln cent. That is not something to be taken lightly.
There is not much evidence of 1909-S hoards. The expectation is that someone would have saved the 1909-S in some numbers, and it is slightly more available than might be expected today. It lists for just $360 in MS-60 and $1,325 in MS-65. While those are certainly premium prices for a Lincoln cent, they are not the prices one would expect for a Lincoln cent with a mintage under 2 million.
The grading services do not show the 1909-S in unusually short supply, so some must have been set aside around 1909. It is understandable that the 1909-S Indian Head cent and VDB Lincoln with their lower mintages were given priority, so the 1909-S might have had less saving than we think.
Historically the 1909-S has not been taken for granted by collectors assembling sets from circulation. It was seen as close to impossible to find. The demand for circulated examples seems to still be strong. In G-4 it has moved from $37 in 1998 to $115 today.
The 1909-S may prove to be better than we think in Mint State, especially in MS-65 where it seems to have been discovered. Its MS-65 price today suggests that supplies are not as strong as expected. The lack of saving could finally be coming back to haunt us today.