My coin collecting history runs as follows: I started collecting in the mid 1950s, when I was about 12 years old. At first, my acquisitions were obtained primarily through roll searches, but I occasionally bought and/or traded for coins I needed. For the most part, I put aside my collecting and collections during my college years, although I did sell coins to buy an engagement ring for my fiancée, later my wife.
When I finished my formal education, I resumed my collecting, initially focusing on completing the incomplete sets formed earlier. In the late 70s/early 80s, my coin activities took another turn, as I started and ran a part-time mail-order business for a decade.
Since that time, I have continued collecting, purchasing more and more expensive items as my finances permitted. As you can see, I've been associated with coins for the better part of 65 years, and along the way, I've found some series and individual dates more appealing than others. High on my list is a coin I found, traded, and have bought and sold: the 1914-D Lincoln cent.
In his 1996 The Complete Guide to Lincoln Cents, David Lange wrote this about the 1914-D: "A key date within the Lincoln series, 1914-D is scarce in all circulated grades, particularly in those most highly sought: Fine through About Uncirculated." The two 1914-Ds I rescued from circulation had long since left the higher grades behind.
In addition to the 1914-D, with its mintage of 1,193,000 pieces, the other keys to the Lincoln series are the 1909-S, the 1909-S VDB, and the 1931-S. In my roll searches, I found two of these, the 1909-S and the 1914-D. In each case, I found two examples. Both of the 1909-Ss were in F condition, and the 1914-Ds were both Gs. I never found the 1909-S VDB or the 1931-S.
At the time I found the 1914-Ds, their Red Book (Guide Book of United States Coins) value was $15. A 1914-D in F condition would have been worth $32.50, and the date listed for $150 in Unc. condition. These were the only grades listed in my 1958 Red Book.
Of course, values have risen considerably since then, and many more grades are currently evaluated. In this magazine, the values start at $155 for a G4 on their way to $8,000 for an MS65. In F12, the date is worth $215.
The first of the 1914-Ds I found was the better coin and would probably have been a G6 using today's grading system. It promptly found a home in my 25c blue Whitman folder. The second coin became trading material.
The Lincolns I still needed were the 1909-S VDB and the 1931-S. At the time, the 1909-S VDB listed for $22 in G, a grade almost never encountered for this date. In fact, it would have been difficult to find the 1909-S VDB in any grade below F, which was worth $32.50. Thus, I focused on a trade for the 1931-S, which had Red Book values of $4 in G (also a hard grade to find), $7 in F, and $14 in Unc. The reason that Gs for these two dates were hard to find is that their low mintages (484,000 and 866,000, respectively) were recognized early, and many were saved for this reason.
Being young and trusting, I ran an ad in Coin World offering to trade my G 1914-D for a F or better 1931-S. Just considering the Red Book values for the two coins, it doesn't appear that this would have been a very equitable trade, as the 1931-S, even in Unc. condition was still worth a bit less than a G 1914-D.
Actually, I don't think my second 1914-D was a very nice example of the G grade, and I seem to recall some minor problems. What happened was that I got a call from a local collector who offered to swap his F 1931-S for my 1914-D. I had listed my home address, and he had gotten my parents' phone number from the telephone directory. Remember those?
He offered to come over right away, and we would make the swap. He did, and we did, but there's more to the story.
Remember what I said about being young and trusting? You can add to that "naive" and "easily intimidated" by adults. The man's 1931-S was in technically F condition, but it was a strange reddish color, as I recall, like it had been in a fire. I didn't like it, but it was there, and, with misgivings, I handed over my 1914-D.
As I said earlier, I had run an ad for this swap, and the local collector, being local, had responded right away. Soon, better offers started coming by mail. One collector had a VF 1931-S, another an XF, indeed all the offers I got involved potentially better coins than my ugly, red one. It was too late, of course, as my 1914-D was gone, and I never found another. Not surprisingly, I got rid of the ugly 1931-S as quickly as I could.
In addition to the short quote above, Lange had much more to say about the 1914-D cent. One topic was a warning about counterfeit examples, particularly those made by altering the first "4" on a 1944-D to make it look like a "1." Of course, that makes the spacing between the "9" and the fake "1" too great, but there's a more definitive way to spot this fake: It has a tiny VDB on the bottom of Lincoln's shoulder. After removing the designer's initials in 1909, they did not reappear until 1918, so a genuine 1914-D doesn't have them. By the way, a warning about such an alteration appeared in my 1958 Red Book, and it's still there in my 2020 edition.
After my disastrous trade, I still didn't have a 1931-S I wanted to add to my collection. I did find a nice 1931-S several years later in a small, hole-in-the-wall coin shop on Royal Street in New Orleans, but that's a story for another column.