I recently attended the Illinois Numismatic Association 50th anniversary show near Chicago. I wish I could have gotten away from the ICG table long enough to search for variety coins as this was truly a great “collectors” show.
During the three-day event I was asked to grade and authenticate many more 1922 Plain cents than I normally see at shows. In each case, I explained the nuances of these coins to their owners. Perhaps readers will also appreciate some insight into this variety.
Although Bert Harsche and especially Al Craig had done some pioneering research into authenticating 1922 Plain cents, as best as I can remember, confusion ruled in the marketplace. Practically any 1922 cent without a strong “D” mintmark could be found in a 2x2 holder labeled as a “1922 Plain” or “No D ” specimen and that included many altered coins with removed mintmarks!
When I joined ANACS in 1972, we used the diagnostics found in Bert Harsche’s book Detecting Altered Coins to authenticate this variety. They included a strong “T” in “Trust,” a weak “R” in “Liberty” and a flat tail 2 in the date. On many of the coins we certified, there was still a trace of the mintmark visible as a “shadow-like” blob under the date.
Eventually, I noticed that coins with no trace of a mintmark had a thin, wormy, curved top on the second 2 of the date. It was an entirely different shape from that of the first 2. This became ANACS’s prime criteria for authenticating 1922 Plain cents. We paid no attention to the strength of the reverse strike; however, some coins came with a broken reverse die. The major break runs from the rim, through the “L” in “Pluribus” and into the “O” of “One.” The crack is straight on some coins and shifts inside the “O” on others. We found that coins with the shifted crack reverse could be found with and without a trace of a “D” mintmark.
In the marketplace during this time, the “Very Weak D” coins were still accepted by many as the desirable 1922 Plain variety. In fact, ANACS had authenticated a number of these cents previously due to the fact that the mintmark was hardly visible.
Then Charlie Hoskins and I got tired of playing God at ANACS. We determined that only the coins with the “wormy 2” and a strongly defined reverse appeared without a trace of the mintmark. These coins would be the only ones we would certify as 1922 Plain cents. Coins with a weak reverse, very weak shadow mintmarks, or offset die breaks were certified as “Weak D” or “Very Weak D” cents depending on how closely the “blob” under the date resembled a “D” mintmark. It appeared that the confusion would finally be over.
Not so. In the mid-1970s, ANACS was moved to ANA headquarters in Colorado Springs. Only one rookie trainee from the original staff went along to join a new group of employees.
Unfortunately, the new group had to go through the entire learning curve again while trying to sort out the confusion caused by the different die states and die combinations of the 1922 cents. Once again, the ANACSs criteria changed as it needed to determine when a “Very Weak D” cent became the “Plain” or “No D” variety.
Let me quote from a 1982 ANACS article to give you a feel for what the new authenticators in Colorado Springs had to go through as the mintmark disappeared and then reappeared again later on some of the dies. I quote: “The 1922 ‘No D’ cent presents an unusual challenge because its authentication requires that a subjective judgment be made.” We had found out years earlier that subjective judgments didn’t work in this particular case.
Ultimately, this situation had a very happy ending. Around 1984, ANACS followed our lead (Charlie and I were now at the INS Authentication Bureau in Washington, D.C.) and also stopped playing God with these coins. ANACS published another article in The Numismatist magazine that modified Craig’s original research and became the definitive study on the 1922 Plain die varieties. This article can be found in Counterfeit Detection a reprint from The Numismatist Volume II available from the ANA library. I would be repeating much of what has been previously published on this subject here so if you wish a copy of this study, send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to me care of ICG, P.O. Box 27600, Tampa, FL 33688.
In brief, some 1922-D dies became filled, preventing planchet metal from flowing into the mintmark cavity. These dies produced coins with various degrees of the mintmark visible. On another die pair, the obverse was heavily polished obliterating the mintmark cavity and changing the shape of the second 2 of the date. Even Lincoln’s coat was weakened as the dies were polished. This obverse die is paired with a fully detailed “strong” reverse and is accepted as the only “true” 1922 Plain variety today.
If you are looking for one of these coins, make sure it has a strong reverse and the distinct digit 2 that I have illustrated here. Otherwise, there is a chance the mintmark has been removed from a 1922-D or you have one of the less important varieties. Even better, have any of these coins checked for authenticy at a major grading service.