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Roll find may hit $100,000

Error-variety columnist and coin dealer Ken Potter of Michigan reports what may be a $100,000 find of a 1969-S doubled-die obverse #1 Lincoln cent.
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Error-variety columnist and coin dealer Ken Potter of Michigan reports what may be a $100,000 find of a 1969-S doubled-die obverse #1 Lincoln cent. He said that a ?local collector? cherry-picked a specimen from out of an uncirculated roll on Oct. 6. The coin was consigned to Potter and is currently at Professional Coin Grading Service of Newport Beach, Calif., for certification and grading. He feels that it may very well tie for the finest piece graded or exceed it. He says that it appears to be just one of two mint state specimens known that is full red.

(Ken Potter photo)

According to Potter, there are just 38 examples certified among the three major grading services that publish population reports. Most of those coins are circulated. Since many coins of this stature are crossed over to anther grading service (or cracked out and resubmitted to the same service) by owners hoping to get a higher grade, or having a personal preference for one service over another, the actual number of specimens in collector hands may be far less, perhaps as few as 25 pieces, Potter estimates.

He said that a local Michigan collector Michael Tremonti found the coin while searching uncirculated rolls of cents. After opening an uncirculated roll of 1969-S cents, he searched through more than half the coins before he spotted what he knew had to be a 1969-S doubled die. Tremonti told Potter that he was able to spot it with the naked eye and said he knew it was a very valuable coin but didn?t know how much its current value was. Hoping to learn more, he immediately contacted Potter knowing that he specializes in rare die varieties and was local.

Potter said, having never met Tremonti, ?I am unaware of his level of expertise, so just assumed the find was one of the exceedingly common examples of strike doubling encountered on this date. This date (along with the 1968-S and 1970-S cents) is the most notorious for this form of doubling damage occurring on Lincoln cents. I advised him of this but he shrugged it off as not being what he found. As I talked to him further he seemed to be knowledgeable with the subject. It seemed that for once there was a possibility that one of the folks making the common claim of finding a 1969-S doubled-die cent might have actually done so. To my surprise, the coin turned out to be a beautiful brilliant uncirculated example of variety.?

The 1969-S doubled die cent has an interesting history in that shortly after it was discovered in 1970, examples sent into the U.S. Treasury Department for verification were subsequently declared counterfeits and confiscated. Several respected hobby representatives continued to insist that they were genuine based on where they were found and on the diagnostics exhibited on the coins.

As it turned out, the counterfeits were actually dated 1969 (with no mintmark) and were produced to defraud collectors. According to John Wexler in his cover story in the February 28, 1981, issue of Error-Variety News, (where he shows excellent images of the counterfeit 1969 doubled die provided by Alan Herbert) Roy Gray and Mort Goodman received prison sentences for their involvement in the counterfeiting scheme.

Later when the government reversed their position on the 1969-S doubled dies, at least some of the genuine pieces were returned to collectors.

Discovery of the variety was originally reported in July 1970 and attributed independently to Cecil Moorhouse and Bill Hudson. According to Walter Breen in his Complete Encyclopedia of U.S. and Colonial Coins:

?Moorhouse?s coin came 6/16/70 in a lot of 5 rolls from the San Francisco Federal Reserve Bank via the Belmont branch of Bank of America. Secret Service Agents seized it in the mistaken belief that it was one of the Goodman counterfeits, but later returned it as genuine.?

Of the grading services that publish population reports, ANACS of Austin Texas, shows they have graded seven 1969-S doubled-die obverse #1 cents ranging from XF to AU-58, Numismatic Guaranty Corporation of Sarasota, Fla., has graded nine examples ranging from AU-53 to two in mint state both grading MS-61 Brown; while Professional Coin Grading Service of Newport Beach, Calif., has graded 22 pieces ranging from VF to MS-64 with only one of seven mint state grades being classified as a full red example.

Prices for the 1969-S doubled die in uncirculated grades as found on the online PCGS Price Guide range from $40,000 for a PCGS-graded MS-60 Brown to $100,000 for a PCGS graded MS-64 Red. The guide does not offer pricing information on lower grades nor is it necessarily applicable to coins graded by other services.

The PCGS Auction Prices Realized feature on their Web site gives an average auction price for the coin in MS-64 RB as $85,000. This price apparently reflects the fact that the one full red example they have listed in their population report has not traded in auction.

Sam Lukes of Sam Lukes Rare Coins of Visalia, Calif., who tracks prices on rare die varieties like this one provided records of known sales since 2004. The following prices include the 15 percent buyer?s fee where it applies:
MS-62 BN (PCGS) March 27, 2004, (Heritage Auctions), $43,700, (Live phone bid).

MS-64 RB (PCGS) Jan. 15, 2005, (Heritage Auctions), $36,800, (Live floor bid). Within a few months of this sale, the same coin was sold privately for $75,000 to a collector.

MS-61 BN (PCGS) May 7, 2005, (Heritage Auctions), $39,100, (eBay Bidder).

EF-45 (PCGS) Private sale earlier this year (2007), $22,000.
MS-64 RB (PCGS August 2007 (Bowers and Merena Auctions), $85,100.

Potter stated that the coin was sent into PCGS and if it comes back as an MS-64 Red that it will tie for the highest grade with just one other coin and could easily sell in excess of $100,000, but that if it grades higher that it could sell for considerably more.

More information on the coin can be obtained from Potter at (313) 268-3280 (cell), or (313) 255-8907 (office), or by e-mail at