New Lincoln cent designs in 2009 are likely to bring in new collectors of Lincoln cents. This will test existing supplies of 100 years of Lincoln cents. If there is one place you might very well want to look for good values today, that is in the usually overlooked Lincoln cents of Denver.
The Lincoln cents from Denver with the exception of the 1914-D and 1922 with no “D” receive very little attention. It should not be that way, but it has been a long-standing fact of life with Lincoln cents that the bulk of the attention goes to the generally lower mintage cents from San Francisco. That has meant that if you want some sleeping values in Lincoln cents, the cents of Denver are an awfully good place to look.
At the time Denver produced its first Lincoln cent in 1911 the facility was still less than a decade old. The delay in producing Lincoln cents, which had made their debut in 1909, is hard to explain beyond the simple fact that the priorities for the new facility were apparently not cents. In reality, it is not all that unusual as it would take until 1912 before Denver and San Francisco would produce their first nickels, so realistically it simply appears that it took time for the branch mints to begin producing the lower denominations once they had been authorized to do so.
The first Denver cent was the 1911-D Lincoln and it was emerging into a world where collectors were just getting used to the idea of cents being produced outside Philadelphia. For years there could be no production of coins containing no gold or silver at facilities other than Philadelphia and that restriction had only been recently lifted. As a result, even San Francisco, which had been making coins since 1854 did not produce its first cent until 1908. Denver, on the other hand, had been striking coins only since 1906.
The 1911-D cent had a mintage of 12,672,000 and although the thought is as the first cent from Denver it might have been heavily saved, there is no real evidence of especially strong saving by anybody. Certainly a few extra examples were set aside, but realistically the 1911-D is not like the 1909 VDB where rolls were being discovered for years.
At $5.25 in G-4, the 1911-D is basically at about the price you might expect for a coin of its age and mintage. In MS-60 at $92 it is cheaper than the 1912-D and the same is true of the $1,550 MS-65 price. This might be due to a little extra supply from a higher mintage.
There is a little evidence of saving as the Professional Coin Grading Service reports 145 examples in MS-65 or better and that is a little high for a Denver issue of the period, but that said the 1911-S is $3,300 in MS-65 and the PCGS total for the 1911-S in MS-65 or better is 110, so it can hardly be suggested that the 1911-D is available in extremely high numbers. In fact, you have to conclude with roughly 35 more examples of the 1911-D graded by PCGS its nearly $2,000 lower price makes it a pretty good deal.
The 1912-D seems to get more attention than the historic 1911-D perhaps in part because what limited extra saving there was in 1911 would not carry over into 1912 and perhaps because the 1912-D had a slightly lower mintage at just 10,411,000, which translates into a $7 G-4 price today with an MS-60 at $165 and an MS-65 at $2,800, which is significantly higher than the 1911-D and with good reason as PCGS reports just 83 examples, roughly 60 fewer than the 1911-D.
The trend continues with the 1913-D, which had a higher 15,804,000 mintage. That makes it less costly in G-4 at just $3 while an MS-60 is $98, but an MS-65 is $2,100 and that price is supported by the fact that PCGS reports just 102 examples, a total still well below the 1911-D.
If any early Denver date is not overlooked it would have to be the 1914-D. With a mintage of 1,193,000, the 1914-D from the start was a better date but realistically it was not given the attention it might have received as its low mintage did not look all that low when compared to the 1909-S VDB.
In any grade the 1914-D is better with a G-4 at $220, which is a solid increase from a price around $80 in the same grade back in 1998 and among regular dates that $220 price puts it behind only the 1909-S VDB among the regular Lincoln dates. Where the 1914-D become special, however is in Mint State where it lists for $1,975 in MS-60 and $24,000 in MS-65 and that listing is up from just $3,900 back in 1998.
Things are a little tricky with the 1914-D as in MS-65 PCGS reports a total of 90 coins, which is actually higher than the 1912-D, and which seems high when compared to a number of other issues. Perhaps the 1914-D is more available even in top grades than we expect but a more likely reason is a continuing flow of coins to the grading services in the hope of getting higher grades as any 1914-D that can come back with a grade higher than MS-65 is likely to be a featured coin at auction and a candidate for headlines with one of those surprising prices ultra- grade coins sometimes command.
It must also be remembered that with a reputation as the key Lincoln cent in MS-65, the demand for the 1914-D remains higher than usual, so we have a variety of factors potentially playing a role in producing what seems like a very high price considering the numbers graded.
The 1915-D would have a higher mintage of 22,050,000, although today that hardly appears to be a large number, but at the time it was the first Denver cent to top the 20 million mark. That higher total makes the 1915-D just a $1.75 coin in G-4 while an MS-60 is just $70 with an MS-65 at $1,350. The PCGS total of just over 120 examples graded in MS-65 makes the 1915-D a more available early date although it is still seen less often than the 1911-D.
In the dates that follow we see evidence that at least some are monitoring the availability of Denver dates more carefully than we might suspect. The dates from 1916-1920 had higher mintages in most cases and basically went unnoticed by collectors for many years. The dates while not very expensive in MS-60 today with prices safely under $100 are a very different matter in MS-65.
If you look at the dates from Denver during the period you find that the 1916-D and 1917-D are $3,300 and $3,000, respectively, in MS-65 with the 1918-D at $3,650 and the 1919-D at $2,700 and the 1920-D at $2,750. Those levels seem high when compared to the earlier lower mintage dates. In fact, the prices are not high as the grading services support the prices as the 1918-D for example has been seen by PCGS just 51 times in MS-65 a total about one-half the number of the 1914-D. It is that way with the other dates as well, so while not well known someone has learned that these dates are not as available as their mintage totals might suggest in top grades like MS-65.
The early 1920s were a confused period primarily because the mints were basically taken away from their normal activities to create large numbers of silver dollars. The Secretary of the Treasury wanted over 200 million silver dollars produced and he wanted them in a hurry to back a new issue of Silver Certificates. It was not an easy task as silver dollars take time to produce and 24 hours a day for six days a week the lights never went out and the machines never stopped at the mints as silver dollars poured out in record numbers. All that activity, however, meant that the mintages of cents and other denominations were reduced dramatically. It explains why there was no 1921-D Lincoln cent as Denver was simply too busy making dollars.
The situation also explains why the 1922-D had a low mintage of just 7,160,000 pieces. With such a low total the 1922-D has become a better date at $17.50 in G-4, $108 in MS-60 and $2,450 in MS-65. In fact, it probably could be higher but the 1922-D gets overshadowed by another 1922 Lincoln cent produced at Denver.
The 1922 no “D” was a result of something clogging the mintmark. As production continued, the die filled, and the mintmark became progressively less visible until finally there was none at all. Though produced at Denver, the coin looks to have been produced at Philadelphia but we know that is not the case as Denver was the only facility to produce Lincoln cents in 1922.
The 1922 with no “D” is a very tough coin, listing for $750 in G-4 for the variety with a strong reverse and it gets tougher in higher grades. In MS-60 it lists for $11,000 while an MS-65 is at $200,000.
In fact the price is fair as PCGS reports only two examples seen in MS-65 and in this case the grading services are likely to be a good gauge of available supplies as the 1922 no “D” is a coin where you want expert help as the loss of the “D” was progressive and the coins that have a very weak “D” might appear to have none but in fact are significantly less valuable than a coin that actually has no trace of the “D,” With the high prices especially in Mint State you want to be sure of your purchase and that makes having any 1922-D with no “D” certified a good idea.
The continuing need to make silver dollars or catch up on the production of other denominations resulted in no Denver cent production in 1923, but production would resume again in 1924 and become regular after that. The dates from 1924-1929 are all better in MS-65 perhaps in part because of a lack of saving, or more correctly in this case, a lack of careful selecting as the collectors and dealers of the day were usually simply content with saving an uncirculated example without spending much time and effort to examine the coin to determine if it was a better example or simply an average coin. That was important as the 1920s were a period especially in the case of branch mints where quality was frequently low.
The best of the group from the period in MS-65 is the 1924-D, which is currently priced at $9,500 in MS-65 with PCGS reporting only 59 graded. The 1924-D in addition to the high MS-65 price is a better date in all grades thanks to a mintage of just 2,520,000 pieces. While that total is very low, historically the 1924-D receives relatively little attention considering it is in a very small group of Lincoln cents to have a mintage of fewer than 3 million.
The 1929-D is an interesting date that might well be suggested to be a transitional date. The Denver Lincoln cents of the 1930s are usually more available with prices of less than $100 even in MS-65. In the case of the 1929-D it is certainly more available than a date like the 1924-D with an MS-65 listing of $625 while an MS-60 is just $24, but it is tougher than the dates that would follow.
The greater availability of the cents from the 1930s certainly traces to higher mintages, but also increasing interest during the decade. The Great Depression amazingly saw coin collecting increase in popularity. Perhaps at a time of such economic distress, the idea of finding valuable coins in circulation appealed to many. That increased interest was supported as great information became available and most importantly the first holders to house a collection began to appear.
There were, however, some lower mintage dates like the 4,480,000 mintage 1931-D, which can be found at $5 in G-4 while the 10,500,000 mintage 1932-D is $1.40 and the 6,200,000 mintage 1933-D is $3.50 in G-4. While such dates bring premium prices in circulated grades, in Mint State their prices and availability reflect the fact that cents in greater numbers were being saved by the collectors and dealers of the period.
The popularity of Lincoln cent collecting continued to grow with the passage of time. It was natural as new collectors would start with the lowest denomination and when you couple that added saving with higher mintages, the supply of Lincoln cents in top grades would improve dramatically. Basically all of the Denver Lincoln cent dates from the 1940s and 1950s are available today and many times at prices below $20 in MS-65.
There is a better date in the form of the 1944-D/S which is an unusual coin for at the time there were not many errors at least in Lincoln cents. The 1944-D/S was discovered fairly quickly, which was also unusual, resulting in a $235 XF-40 price. An example in MS-65 is $3,750, which is probably a good price when you realize that PCGS has only seen only 18 examples. Until there is greater demand, however, the 1944-D/S will probably not reach the price levels that seem possible based on the numbers known.
The zinc-coated steel 1943-D is one of the popular cents of 1943 that are souvenirs of World War II as the special composition was created to conserve on copper supplies, which it was thought would be needed for the war effort.
The 1943-D had a mintage of 217,660,000, but the demand today keeps price strong at $8.50 in MS-65. Like the other 1943 cents, the 1943-D has a higher than average demand as the three cents of the year are regularly packaged as the special war year cents.
Ironically, while popular today with their different color, back at the time the cents of 1943 were unpopular with the public, which is why they were produced for just one year. They could be confused with the dime by people in a hurry.
In 1959 the Wheat-back was changed to the Lincoln Memorial reverse and now is changing again. The 1959 change in design at a time when collecting and especially cent collecting was popular produced another significant wave of interest.
Normally interest in a new design decreases after a year, but in 1960 the new Lincoln Memorial reverse cents were the talk of numismatics as it was discovered that some 1960 cents from both Philadelphia and Denver had a shorter upper stem on the “6” making them small dates. The 1960 small dates were a real sensation, although as it turned out there were large numbers of the small date 1960-D and that is why today the small date 1960-D is at basically the same price as the large date 1960-D.
In 1982 there would be a major composition change in the Lincoln cent to the current copper-plated zinc, but 1982 would see production of both the old and new composition cents and because there was a date modification, they would come with both large and small dates. That would mean that Denver would produce large date cents of the old composition and both small and large dates of the new composition, with the large date of the new composition being slightly better than the others.
The saving of the new and old composition cents in 1982 probably helped to prevent a potential supply problem as 1982 was the first of two years when there were no mint sets offered. With other denominations, we have seen supply problems for these two years as the mint sets serve as a reserve supply of Mint State examples for a specific year, but that reserve supply does not exist for either 1982 or 1983.
As it has turned out because of the composition change of the cent in 1982 and the interest it created, the 1982 cents were saved in large numbers. The same is not true in the case of the 1983 cents and that makes the 1983-D a date where there is potential for higher prices in the future. In fact, the 1983-D is not alone as there are other Denver dates from recent years where prices have increased slightly both for MS-65 examples and for uncirculated rolls. It is a trend that might well continue.
Historically speaking, the bulk of the focus for Lincoln cent collectors has been on the issues from San Francisco. That is justified in many cases, but as is seen, astute buyers have discovered that Denver also produced some surprisingly good Lincoln cents. With grading service totals now giving us a better picture of what dates are available in what grades it would seem that the Denver Lincoln cents are going to be receiving much more attention in the future.