Skip to main content

Just looking makes reader $50,000 richer

 1990 “No S” proof cent

1990 “No S” proof cent

Reader Albert Carlisle may be $50,000 to $100,000 richer just because he read our lead story on the find of a 1990 “No S” proof cent in the July 4 issue of Numismatic News.

He acted on it!

No sooner did I finish last week’s story on a Texas collector finding a 1990 “No S” proof cent than I got word from Carlisle. After he saw the story, he checked his 10 1990 proof sets and found five of them contain the rarity!

He sent an image of all five proof sets in one photo so I could be sure no mistakes were made, and sure enough all five sets contained the 1990 “No S” proof cent.

That makes it a total of seven reported to Numismatic News in less than two months! It amplifies the fact that there are still many 1990 proof sets unchecked and that stories like this one can prompt individuals to check their collections and sets at coin shows.

The results might be as amazing as Carlisle’s.

 Five 1990 proof sets yielded the rare and valuable proof 1990 cent without the “S” mintmark.

Five 1990 proof sets yielded the rare and valuable proof 1990 cent without the “S” mintmark.

According to Carlisle, “Back in the 1960s, I got my father interested in collecting coins. In 1970, he passed away, and consequently I picked it up from there. I have been purchasing proof sets along with many other items from the U.S. Mint. Over the years, I also purchased coins at flea markets, private sales, private mints, auctions, dealers, etc.

“My proof sets date from 1961 to present. Some years I purchased one or two sets and in other years up to 10 plus. In 1990, I purchased 10 sets from the U.S. Mint. I don’t ever recall opening the sets upon receipt. I just put them away like all the others.

“When I read your article about the “No S” mintmark on the 1990 proof sets, I decided to check my sets. When I opened the sets, the second set was the first “No S” set. After opening all 10 sets, I ended up with five sets with the “S” and five sets with the “No S.” I couldn’t believe it! Now, when I think back, I used to order the proof sets in lots of five. I’m not sure if I purchased all 10 sets at once, or if I ordered five sets and forgot that I had already ordered these and ordered again. Who knows?”

Collectors should be aware that only the 1990 cents taken from government-issued proof sets or found as “proof singles” in dealer shops or coin shows are the target of this search.

Nearly seven billion cents without a mintmark, or 6,851,765,000 pieces to be exact, were minted by the Philadelphia Mint for circulation.

I have been getting reports on these coins from readers, but more often those who hear of the story secondhand on the Internet tell me they have found one of these in circulation not knowing the difference between proof cents and regular circulation strikes. The circulation strikes found in change are worth exactly one cent.

It is 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. Several others in the same grade with Deep Cameos have sold in the $18,000 to $20,000 range by Heritage Auctions.

The Mint ceased the practice of adding mintmarks to 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 must have taken a die intended to be processed as a business strike working die and processed it as a proof die instead, 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 destroyed 145 of them. Obviously, more got away from them than they caught.

 Another look at the proof set shows the valuable “No S” cent.

Another look at the proof set shows the valuable “No S” cent.

The five from these sets are the latest ones to be brought to light. The Professional Coin Grading Service has certified 192, while Numismatic Guaranty Corporation has certified 78. I could find no records from the other grading services.

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.

However, I believe that if the discovery of more of these coins continues, the 200-coin estimate will have to be raised a bit. I will be anxiously waiting to see what develops, because if my first two stories on these finds didn’t get you motivated to look at your 1990 proof sets, this one should!

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

These seven new finds within less than six months of each other amplify my statement of “where you find one there is usually more” and seems to suggest that many 1990 proof sets are yet to be searched for this rare variety.

In Carlisle’s case, my statement applies even more, since it suggests that varieties are often found in groups. It is not unusual for a collector to open one of a group of sets ordered at one time only to find an important variety and then find more in the same group.

This reminds me of the time my brother Don ordered five proof-like sets from the Royal Canadian Mint in 1973. I saw a story that year about the rare 1973 “Large Bust” Canadian Mountie 25 cents variety being found in some sets and suggested to my brother that we check his sets. To our amazement, we found two of the so-called mule errors. I still own one of the sets today.

My suggestion to readers is to check your sets if you haven’t done so. Also, try searching for this one at coin shows, shops, etc. You never know. You might get lucky!

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

Ken Potter is co-author of “Strike It Rich With Pocket Change” and has been a frequent contribute to “Numismatic News” and “World Coin News” for many years. More information about the error club, that he represents, CONECA 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.

More Collecting Resources

• If you enjoy reading about what inspires coin designs, you'll want to check out Fascinating Facts, Mysteries & Myths about U.S. Coins.

• Are you a U.S. coin collector? Check out the 2018 U.S. Coin Digest for the most recent coin prices.