The year 1909 is an important year for many collectors. Perhaps the most popular coin ever, the Lincoln cent, was designed by Victor D. Brenner, based on an engraved plaque he made in 1907. The bust of Lincoln is virtually identical to the bust used on the cent. On Aug. 2, 1909, the first Lincoln cents were released. Banks limited the number handed out to customers, and some people sold the new cents for more than face value.
The first Lincoln cents bore the designer’s initials, VDB, on the bottom of the reverse. This was soon a controversial topic, as some people felt that the initials were too prominent. Later in the year, they \were removed, only to reappear in 1918, inconspicuously, on Lincoln’s shoulder.
The 1909 VDB cents were saved and are not difficult to find today, even in Mint State. Nearly 28 million were minted; many were hoarded. But the VDB cents minted at San Francisco are scarce, and are still desirable with modern collectors. Only 484,000 were minted, low even by 1909 standards. Many coin enthusiasts, who started collecting Lincoln cents out of circulation, eagerly checked their change, hoping to find one.
The 1909-S, without the initials, is a scarce coin in its own right, but is greatly overshadowed by the VDB coin. The 1909-P is common, and would show up in change as late as the 1960s.
Another S-mint cent, although not as popular as the Lincoln specimen, is scarce and desirable. The final Indian cents were minted in 1909, at Philadelphia and San Francisco. The latter coins had a low mintage of 309,000 – lower than the immensely popular 1909-S VDB.
Four mints operated in 1909: Philadelphia, Denver, New Orleans and San Francisco. It was the final year for the New Orleans Mint, the first branch mint, in operation since 1838. In its last years, the New Orleans Mint, with its O mintmark, struck silver dollars, but when the dollar coin was discontinued in 1904, there was much discussion of closing the Mint. The Denver Mint was to begin striking coins in 1906. The last O-Mint coins were struck in April 1909.
In its final year, the New Orleans Mint struck dimes, quarters, half dollars and half eagles. The quarter has a low mintage of 712,000 and is worth a good premium. The half dollar had a mintage of less than one million, but is not as expensive. The half eagle, with a mintage of only 34,200, is a rarity and commands a five-figure price in AU or better.
The Philadelphia Mint produced nickels, dimes, quarters and half dollars in good quantities. The Liberty nickel and Barber silver coins were still in production and would be for a few more years.
Gold quarter eagles, half eagles, eagles and double eagles were also struck at Philadelphia. The quarter eagles had all been struck at Philadelphia in the years 1880-1910. Bela Lyon Pratt’s Indian head design was used on these coins and the half eagles. The Saint-Gaudens Indian head was used on the eagle and the beautiful standing Liberty on the double eagle. The P-mint gold coins are not exceptionally scarce.
The Denver Mint struck dimes and quarters. The dime had a mintage of less than a million, while the quarter had a strong mintage of over five million. Denver also produced gold coins, the half eagle, eagle and double eagle. The eagle and double eagle had fairly low mintages. The eagle’s mintage came to 121,540, and the double eagle only 52,500. Although this is a low figure, the prices are not much higher for this coin than for most of the others during this era.
San Francisco minted dimes, an even one million of them. Prices are comparable to its D-mint cousin. The quarters and half dollars were struck in good quantities. 1909-S double eagles had a good mintage of over 2.7 million. The S-Mint half eagle and eagle had less than 300,000 minted.
Besides the circulation coins, Philadelphia minted a small number of proofs. Lincoln cents were made in matte proof, a difference from the brilliant proofs collectors were used to seeing. Proof Lincoln cents of the 1909 VDB variety are genuinely rare and have recently become in much higher demand, as the matte proofs have become more appreciated. Although not brilliant, and unpopular with collectors of the time, matte proofs can show attractive toning, often in shades of violet and blue. Only 1,194 of the 1909 VDB proofs were struck. Many were spent by collectors who were unhappy with their appearance. Only 2,618 matte proofs were made of the 1909 without VDB.
The proof Indian cents are easier to find than the 1909 VDB, with mintage of 2,175. These coins are overshadowed by the more popular Lincoln cents.
Brilliant proof nickels, dimes, quarters, and half dollars were made. Nickel proof mintage came to 4,763, with the silver coins having mintages of only 650 each. Prices now are not too painful – perhaps a good opportunity for collectors of silver, type coins, or anyone who appreciates low mintage coins that are not tremendously popular.
Gold proofs of 1909 are rare. Only 139 were minted of the quarter eagle, 78 of the half eagle, 74 of the eagle and 67 of the double eagle. The double eagles are satin proof and the other gold coins, matte proofs. Though not brilliant, the proof gold coins have an artistic beauty and look like fine sculptures.
Varieties exist of 1909 coins, notably the 1909/8 overdate double eagle and 1909-S cents with an over-mintmark, S over horizontal S.
Not including the varieties and proofs, 29 different coins can be collected with the 1909 date, including the Indian and Lincoln cents. Time for you to get started.
This article was originally printed in Numismatic News. >> Subscribe today.
More Collecting Resources
• Are you a U.S. coin collector? Check out the 2018 U.S. Coin Digest for the most recent coin prices.
• The 1800s were a time of change for many, including in coin production. See how coin designs grew during the time period in the Standard Catalog of World Coins, 1801-1900 .