Normally speaking, the second year of a new design sees a very pronounced reduction in the amount of saving by collectors and dealers. The novelty is gone, and in one case after another we see the first year of a new design with higher Mint State totals at the grading services than the second or third year.
Not only is there a reduction in saving, but also in interest. Those collecting the new design get their required coins, but that is about it. In that first year, there is a lot of conversation and interest, but by the second year the new design is treated like any other.
The one exception to that in recent years – other than the 50 state quarter and America the Beautiful programs where a new design was released every few months – took place in 1960. There was no doubt a lot of interest in the new Lincoln cent reverse in 1959. We can see that in the proof and mint set sales that show a lot more people had ordered sets in 1959 than they did in 1958.
Certainly all the interest in 1959 would have dropped off in 1960 had it not been for the discovery of the fact that coins from both Philadelphia and Denver had a shorter than normal serif on the “6” in the date. We now know that happens when the date is modified, but all that was known in 1960 was that there was an unusual “6” in some dates on the Lincoln cent and that was very exciting.
When you look at the $12 MS-65 price, it is easy to come to the conclusion that back in 1960 people got excited pretty easily. There may be some truth in that, but it is not that simple. It must be remembered that many collectors being young in 1960 honestly felt that it was normal to find better dates in regular circulation. Finding better dates in circulation had been rather commonplace in the 1950s.
There was also a belief that the government would – and did, periodically – make awfully good coins that would go up in price almost as soon as you found one. The prime example had been the 1950-D Jefferson nickel, which, by 1960, was around $6 in Mint State, and that’s a pretty good price climb in a decade for a nickel.
Simply put, you had quite literally a generation of collectors who honestly felt that finding good coins in regular circulation was normal. To that group, the news of a small date that was tougher and a little promotion of that small date were a combination likely to send thousands running to the banks to get rolls where they could find the next valuable coin.
It happened all over, and the promotion continued for some time. A little promotion back in 1960 went a long way as almost everyone knew someone who had found one of the great coins with which the 1960 small dates were being compared.
All the searching paid off. Almost everyone found a small date 1960 cent from Denver. Of course that was a problem since, if everyone found them, they were going nowhere in terms of their price, which is basically the same today.
Anyone who did any searching for small dates knew at the time that Philadelphia was tough. It was seen about as often as a Lincoln cent from San Francisco produced during the 1910-1915 era. Those were tough coins not usually found without a lot of looking, and that was true of the Philadelphia small date as well.
If anything, the small date prices are a little disappointing today. They haven’t changed much in years, and the lack of demand is keeping them inexpensive. With such an interesting story they should probably be more, but collectors today don’t see them the same way collectors did in 1960 in terms of potential.