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Reviewing 'A Guide Book of Lincoln Cents' Third Edition

By Mike Thorne, Ph.D.

Here’s yet another book that recently tumbled from Q. David Bowers’ pen: A Guide Book of Lincoln Cents, 3rd Edition. I don’t know about you, but I started collecting Lincoln cents almost as soon as I became a coin collector, and that was more than 65 years ago!

Of course, I don’t need to tell you that 65 years ago there was still lots of “good stuff” in circulation. Sitting on my bed looking through the roll of pennies my father brought home every night, I found such winners as a 1909-S cent (but no VDB!) in Fine condition, a couple of G-VG 1914-Ds, and multiples of all the semi-key Lincolns (e.g., 1910-S, 1911-S, 1912-S, etc.).

Okay, you can stop drooling over all the good stuff that was in circulation when I was in junior high. That was “back in the day” and will never come again. Until someone invents a time machine, that is.

Enough of my silliness, the book I’m reviewing here is another entry in the Official Red Book series. It’s by Q. David Bowers, as I mentioned above, with a Foreword by David Lange. Lange is the Director of Research at NGC (Numismatic Guaranty Corporation) and a long-time Lincoln cent aficionado. 

Bowers, on the other hand, is the co-founder of Stack’s Bowers Galleries. Bowers also began collecting coins as a youth and is justifiably proud of his status as a rare-coin dealer at the tender age of 13! The recipient of many honors as a numismatist, Bowers “. . . was the first ANA member to be named Numismatist of the Year.”

His books, of which there have been more than 50, have often been celebrated. In fact, the NLG (Numismatic Literary Guild) has honored more of Bowers’ books with their “Book of the Year Award” than those of any other writer. 

Bowers begins this new edition of his Guide Book of Lincoln Cents before the beginning. Now, what does that mean? How can you begin a book before the beginning? It means that the first chapter discusses the various cents that came before the Lincoln cent. 

As you would expect with a David Bowers book, there’s always space for historical observations. For example, when discussing large cents he notes, “Throughout the early 19th century the copper cent was the most popular, the most ubiquitous of American coins. A handful of pennies could buy a dinner, an overnight stay in a hotel, or passage on a coach drawn by a span of horses.”

After that, we come to the first of the small cents, the short-lived Flying Eagle cent, which was followed by the Indian cent. Should it be the “Native American cent?” Or, more appropriately, the Liberty cent on which Liberty wears an Indian headdress? 

Having discussed the prelude to the Lincoln cent, Bowers gives us the history of the wheat-back cent (the coin that I, and thousands of other kids, grew up collecting.) In the chapter, we find out what Viktoras Barnauskas changed his name to when he emigrated to the U.S. Does the name Victor David Brenner ring a bell?

If you read the book’s brief biographical sketch of Brenner, you’ll discover, as I did, that the sculptor joined the ANA not once but twice. It seems he had let his first membership lapse by failing to pay his dues. You’ll also learn that he was one of the artists asked to submit a design for the Peace dollar. 

At the end of the chapter on Wheat cents, Bowers has a brief paragraph devoted to the 1955 doubled-die obverse cent. It “. . . attracted very little notice at the time, but by 1960 it was on the ‘must have’ list of many collectors.” My thought on reading this was, “Why didn’t I buy one when they were still inexpensive?”

Succeeding chapters cover the history of the Lincoln Memorial cent, the history of the Bicentennial Reverse cent in 2009, and the history of the Shield Reverse cent, which you may have in your pocket. There’s also a history of proof Lincoln cents.

In the chapter on proof cents, I noticed several sections entitled “Being a Smart Buyer of . . . Proofs.” One thing I learned is that for the matte proofs, Bowers prefers high-grade coins with the BN (brown) designation. One huge advantage to such a coin is that most buyers won’t be interested in it, as they seek RB (red-brown) pieces or cents with the coveted RD (red) designation. About the latter, Bowers writes, “Pieces described as full RD, if with no toning at all, are in my opinion pieces that have been dipped. . . .” Without the high demand of RB or RD designations, BN Lincolns tend to be remarkably inexpensive.

Chapter 10 is a whole chapter on being a smart buyer. In it, Bowers covers vital topics such as sharpness, planchet quality, and original color. He ends the chapter with a simple system that you can employ to be successful in purchasing Lincoln cents.

Of course, the heart of the book is Bowers’ “Analysis and Market Guide to Lincoln Cents.” In it, he gives a date-by-date analysis of the entire series, from 1909 through 2018. One of my favorite finds from circulation was a 1924-S with a so-called “goiter neck.” The coin has a raised area on Lincoln’s neck, and mine received a grade of AU-50 from PCGS. 

Bowers has no mention of the 1924-S goiter neck, but David Lange, writing in 1996, devoted several lines to the variety. Ironically, Lange’s book, The Complete Guide to Lincoln Cents, was published by Bowers and Merena Galleries!

Even without any mention of the 1924-S goiter neck cent, Bowers’ latest edition of his Guide Book of Lincoln Cents is a must-have for the Lincoln cent collector. It was published by Whitman Publishing, LLC, with a list price of $19.95. You can find it discounted on either Amazon or eBay, and it’s also available from the publisher at whitman.com.

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