San Francisco Mint Cents of 1968-74, Part Three

Posted by David W. Lange, NGC Research Director on 5/1/2007

David Lange concludes his retrospective of San Francisco cents from 1968 to 1974.

In 1970, two obverse master dies were employed for San Francisco cents. As in 1960, the so-called Small Date variety came first and is the scarcer for both proofs and currency pieces. It is known also as the Level Date variety, since the top of the 0 is even with the top of the 7, while in the Large Date variety the 0 protrudes above the height of the 7.

Another peculiarity of the 1970 cents, both SD and LD, is that the 7 is the same height as the 1, whereas it should have been as long as the 9. The U.S. Mint's Engraving Department had been making similar stylistic mistakes in the cent dates for decades, while getting the other denominations correct. An appropriate date style was adopted for 1971-72, only to have a relapse of the short 7 occur in 1973. In recent years the Mint seems to have become more diligent in maintaining consistent date styles. Several repunched mintmark (RPM) varieties are noted for 1970-S, all of them fairly minor and of interest solely to specialists. There are also a number of doubled-die obverse (DDO) varieties, including some for proof cents. The most dramatic of these appears only on currency pieces, the date and all legends showing considerable separation.

Aside from varieties, the 1970-S cent is fairly plentiful in gem red condition as a consequence of widespread hoarding of uncirculated bags and rolls. As with the other cents of this period, however, there is a limit to the quality that may be found. The NGC Census Report for April 2007 reveals that the highest-graded 1970-S SD cents are three pieces in MS-67 Red, while just six LD cents have achieved this grade and none finer.

As for the proofs, most reveal little or no cameo contrast in the legends and devices. In 1970, the Mint was still making no special effort to retain frosting in the die cavities, so Cameo and Ultra Cameo proofs of this date are quite scarce. There seem to be just enough top-quality examples certified to satisfy competitors in the NGC and PCGS online collector registries, and these specialists pay significant premiums for the finest pieces.

1971-S cents are far less interesting than those of the year before. Just a single pair of master dies was used to generate all working hubs and dies, so the only variations are the result of errors. Several RPMs may be found, none of them very exciting. Of more interest are the two DDO varieties found in the proofs. While the doubling is relatively minor, these varieties are nevertheless quite popular with specialists.

Once again, gems in the MS-65 and MS-66 grades are fairly plentiful, but higher-grade pieces are all but nonexistent. The April 2007 NGC Census Report includes just six examples certified as MS-67 Red and none finer.

Beginning in 1971, the U.S. Mint plated its proof dies with chromium to increase their useful life, which also had the effect of preserving the frosted die cavities for a greater number of impressions. Cameo proofs are thus a little more common from this point onward, though Ultra Cameo (alternately Deep Cameo) proofs are still relatively scarce before 1979.

The San Francisco Mint cents dated 1972 are of little interest to variety specialists. A couple of very minor DDOs may be found for the proofs, both of them difficult to discern. At least one RPM is known, this being likewise quite minor.

1972-S cents, though common in red uncirculated condition, appear to be quite rare in the highest grades. NGC has certified just a single example as MS-67 Red and none better. The culprit in this condition rarity is bagmarking, the numerous tiny marks seen on coins as a consequence of being tumbled about in tote bins and canvas bags before finally reaching the consumer. Even the coins taken from the U.S. Mint's Uncirculated sets are of mediocre quality until about 1988, when the Mint began making a conscious effort to include superior pieces.

The 1973-S cent coinage is a near repeat of the previous year, in that few varieties may be found, while truly superb examples of this issue are essentially unknown. The only variety that I recorded in my book, The Complete Guide to Lincoln Cents, is a reverse die break. As for condition rarity, NGC has certified just a single example as MS-67 Red/Brown and none as MS-67 Red! Here's a real tough one for you registry collectors.

1974-S cents are a near repeat of 1973 with respect to condition rarity. Coins just making the gem level are abundant, but NGC has not graded a single piece finer than MS-66 Red.

The San Francisco cents of 1974 have a special appeal as the last circulating cents of this mint. While no accidental varieties are noted, there were two distinct obverse master hubs used for all three mints in 1974. The first obverse used that year was evidently created for the trial strikes of the aluminum and bronze-clad steel cents struck during 1973-75 using 1974-dated dies, but this same style was used for circulating cents, too. Sometime during 1974, a second obverse style was introduced, and this continued into the next several years' coinage. A more complete study of this interesting transitional coinage may be found in my column from the March 2004 issue of the NGC Newsletter.

David W. Lange's column, "USA Coin Album," appears monthly in Numismatist, the official publication of the American Numismatic Association.

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