San Francisco Mint Cents of 1968-74, Part Two
Posted by David W. Lange, NGC Research Director on 4/1/2007
The cents dated 1968 were the last ones coined with obverse dies derived from the original master hub. Though it had been modified in 1915-16, this master hub was essentially the same one adopted in 1909. After 60 years of generating master dies it had become severely worn, the lettering being drawn to the edge, and Lincoln's portrait being grossly malformed and nearly featureless. A new master hub for the obverse should have been introduced in 1959, simultaneously with the Lincoln Memorial reverse, yet this was overlooked at that time. The massive coin shortage that followed shortly thereafter prevented further action until the new Philadelphia Mint began limited operations in 1967-68, at which time a series of improvements were made to the cent and nickel.
The same mintmark style was used for all San Francisco Mint cents dated 1968-74. This puncheon was a holdover from the early 1940s, and it featured a sharp serif at the upper end of the S and a knob tail at the lower end. At least two repunched, S/S varieties are known for 1968-S, both of them quite subtle and uninteresting to general collectors of Lincoln cents. There are also several doubled-die obverse varieties for this date, one of them a fairly popular variety seen on proof issues. This doubling is evident in the date and in LIBERTY.
Aside from these varieties, 1968-S cents are plentiful in uncirculated condition with their full, original color. Gems are not especially scarce, though it must be remembered that the quality of these coins as they left the mint was typically inferior to that of cents coined during the 15-20 years preceding the present. As of this writing, just a single 1968-S cent has been certified as MS-68 and none finer.
The 1968-S proofs are lacking in obverse detail, due to the eroded condition of the obverse master hub. The reverse of such coins typically is quite sharp, though overly vigorous polishing of the dies on 1968-S proofs of all denominations resulted in the loss or reduction of certain low-relief elements in the design. Cameo and Ultra Cameo proofs, while comprising a minority of the proof issue, are sufficiently available that specialists can expect to locate an example in satisfactory condition.
The 1969-S cents featured the new obverse master hub introduced that year for all three mints. The overall relief was restored to approximately its 1909 level, the lettering was made broader and more easily read, and all features were moved further from the edge for better clarity and extended die life.
Varieties include several "cuds" (broken dies), as well as one of the most spectacular doubled-die obverse varieties in the entire series. Though not quite as pronounced as the DDO varieties of 1955, 1958 and 1972, this one is highly desirable for its novelty as a San Francisco Mint issue. Bold doubling is visible in the date and in LIBERTY. The 1969-S DDO is quite rare in all grades, the number apparently being in the dozens. Uncirculated examples are extremely rare.
This variety was discovered shortly after it was produced, but a number of specimens were confiscated by the U.S. Mint when sent there for verification. It seems that a prominent figure in the error/variety hobby had struck off a number of phony 1969 Philadelphia Mint doubled-die obverse cents, and the genuine S-Mint coins were condemned in the dragnet investigation that followed. Before their authenticity was proved, these 1969-S DDO cents were destroyed by the Mint without compensation to their owners. The Mint has since acknowledged its mistake and is much more open-minded and cooperative with the numismatic community than it was at that time.
A word of caution is in order with respect to cents dated 1968-S through 1971-S. These dates frequently are seen with strike doubling, a phenomenon that results from slight movement of the obverse die at the moment of striking and ejection. It is also known as mechanical doubling or ejection doubling, all of these terms describing the same cause and effect. Such coins are very common and carry no premium. An easy way to spot strike doubling is to check the mintmark. Since this element is added to the working die after it is sunk from a working hub, it will not share the doubled image found on a true doubled-die variety. That means that any doubling seen on the mintmark is the product of strike doubling (this excludes, of course, repunched mintmarks).
Like most Lincoln Memorial issues, 1969-S cents are fairly plentiful in the grades of MS-65 and MS-66 with their original mint red color. Higher-grade pieces, however, are quite elusive. The sharpening of details in the Lincoln portrait had the one negative effect of making contact marks more distinguishable, and this limits the number of very high-grade coins.
Cameo and Ultra Cameo proofs are somewhat more available for this date than for 1968-S, perhaps as a consequence of their overall superior quality. The San Francisco Assay Office (as it was then officially known) overcame the heavy-handed die polishing of the previous year, retaining more details and preserving more of the frosted texture in the die cavities. However, most proofs are fully brilliant since the dies were still being used too long to retain their frosting.
Next month's column will conclude with an examination of 1970-S through 1974-S cents.
David W. Lange's column, "USA Coin Album," appears monthly in Numismatist, the official publication of the American Numismatic Association.