These Lincolns Make Cents

Posted on 5/15/2019

Solving the copper conundrum; summer expos around the corner.

Although the first day of summer is a month away, spring is still having a hard time establishing itself here in my New Hampshire. This morning, as I made my way to my home office, it was a rather chilly (heck, cold) 35 degrees outside. Yet the promise of spring is here as the cardinals and the goldfinches have made their colorful presence known.

Our latest addition, Ms. Chloe the cat, is having an absolute field day popping from one window to another, not wanting to miss any of the feathered action. With all the rain we’ve had, things are beginning to turn green. And with the forsythias in bloom, things aren’t all that bad.

Hey, it is only a week away from the Whitman Coin & Collectible Baltimore Summer Expo and a mere three weeks from the Long Beach Expo summer edition!

The 1955 Lincoln Cent Doubled Die Obverse graded NGC MS 64 RD that will be offered by Stack's Bowers.
Click images to enlarge.

A quick look at the Stack’s Bowers Baltimore sale Rarities Night shows many tantalizing offerings, including one of my all-time favorites, the iconic 1955 Lincoln Cent Doubled Die Obverse, this one a delightful NGC MS 64 RD.  The bold obverse doubling is accentuated by the marvelous bright orange luster still adhering to the near-Gem coin. It’s truly one of the best-looking survivors of the approximately 24,000 that escaped into circulation.

Hands down, this mid-20th century coin continues to be the most popularly collected mint error since its discovery in upstate New York and greater New England around the end of 1955.

This dynamic coin also has a very personal connection with me. Because it was on a hot summer’s day coming up on 53 years ago this July that I became acquainted with numismatics in a hunt for one of those elusive and dramatic 1955 Doubled Die Cents.

Hands-on training

My mom had been a waitress at Jarvis’s, a local diner in downtown Portsmouth, New Hampshire, in the early-to-late 1950s and had saved all of her tips that she received in change and had deposited them in a rather large Lincoln figural decanter. Now, according to mom, among all the change in that massive glass container she was sure she had a 1955 Double Die Cent. But to find it among the thousands of copper coins was going to be quite the challenge. So mom enlisted the help of my older twin brothers and me to sort through the piles of copper.

The task began on the somewhat spiraling staircase which overlooked our living room. We each were doled out a few hundred coins and were instructed to look for a 1955 cent that was “a bit blurry.”  Given that it was a hot, humid day in July and we didn’t have air conditioning after a few hours search everything became a bit blurry. Yet we dutifully continued with the assignment.

Found it!

I began to make a game out of it and set aside coins dated in the 1920s, ’30s, ’40s and ’50s.  I even located a few Indian Head Cents! My brothers didn’t seem to be having any fun and would just look for those dated 1955 and hand each over to mom to check out with her small magnifying glass. We were about two-thirds through the copper conundrum when I pulled out another handful of 1955 Lincoln Cents. As the sweat beads from my brow found their way into my eyes, it was hard to focus, but one copper did look a bit different. I handed it to my mom and she pulled out the magnifier and simply said “That’s it! You found it, Jimmy!”

Well, I was glad that I found “it” and that this long task was over. My brothers and I went outside to play.

The 1955 Doubled Die Cent that Jim Bisognani found in 1966.
Click images to enlarge.

No just desserts

As 5 p.m. rolled around, my dad came home from work as usual. Yet before dad could emerge from the old blue and white Mercury, mom appeared at the back screen door and swung it open with such force I thought it would snap the hinges. She sped over to dad, a few words were exchanged. Dad then motioned to us to come on and get in the car. We rather gleefully responded and jumped in the back seat, me in the middle. We were excited as my brothers surmised that maybe we were going to get some ice cream or some other frosty cold treat on that hot summer’s eve.

Unfortunately, after a short drive, we pulled up in front of an old gray building adjacent to the waterfront in downtown Portsmouth. We three huddled in the back seat let out a group sigh — no ice cream here! Although, in a bit of consolation, the Piscataqua River across from us did offer us some much-appreciated cool breeze through the window.

Dad finished parking the car and announced, “OK, kids, get out.” We then made our way across the street and entered this shop. I still recall that, as we opened the door, a little bell tinkling to announce our arrival. Once inside, we were greeted with that unmistakable musty smell that you would associate with a damp basement. My brother John summed it up when he said “This place really stinks.”

Yet as we made our way inside the shop, it was fairly brightly illuminated and the odor seemed to dissipate. There was a bit of everything there, it seemed: Panama hats, old tools, magazines, books, glassware — you name it.  I remember thinking this was pretty neat. My brothers were busy checking out a box of old tools as my mom and dad made their way toward a long glass showcase in the front of the establishment. I recall seeing a rather gaunt, bespectacled old gent appearing from behind a curtain and exchanging small talk with them. Then mom pulled out something from her purse and handed it to the old fellow. He promptly drew out a magnifier from his plaid shirt’s pocket and then reached up near the top of a rather rickety-looking old bookcase and pulled down a red book and then glanced back at what mom had given him.

My brothers had now moved on to some old 78 records and were oblivious to what was happening, so I decided to make my way closer to hear what was going on with mom and dad.

An offer mom refused

As I quietly crept forward, I could tell dad was upset as his bald head was beet red and he was making some rather pointed gestures at mom. I had now made my way to the end of that rather large showcase. It was filled with glassware, figurines, coins, etc. I then heard the old guy say “No. That is the best I can do, $50.”

Dad again was muttering and making gestures to mom. Then, in perfect unison, the old proprietor  and my dad said “You will never get more than $50 for that penny.”  Then it hit me. They were arguing over the 1955 penny we had been looking for and I had found! Mom was still not giving in to my dad’s pleas and animated contortions. It was then that mom looked up and saw me at the end of the showcase and said “No, I am going to save it for Jimmy.”

She did and, yes, I still have that wonderful nearly mint state 1955 Doubled Die. I was thinking that with the Great American Coin Hunt still going on, maybe a youngster like I was back in 1966 would find some great early Lincoln Cents and start a collection and begin a wonderful numismatic journey, too.

At Heritage, another notable cent

My associate, Kevin Stoutjesdyk, pointed out that the bidding for the Heritage Summer Long Beach Signature sale opens as we are going to press.  

He also shared some thoughts on perhaps the other most iconic Lincoln Cent — the 1909-S VDB.

The 1909-S VDB is considered by many to be the most famous collector coin.
Click images to enlarge.

Per Kevin, “There are several examples in the upcoming sale of what many would consider the most famous collector coin, including this superb 1909-S VDB Lincoln Cent NGC MS-64 RD.

“Although it is not as rare or valuable as others, it should not be overlooked. With the scale of major modern auctions, we sometimes get distracted by the Ultra Cameo $4 Stellas and Proof Trade Dollars of the world that we see relatively often. It is important to remember that many of us in this coin community got started by filling penny boards/books as children or even adults.

“That 1909-S VDB slot was usually the last one open in the book and, if you finally filled it with a heavily circulated example, you had an amazing feeling of accomplishment. So, if you're scrolling through the auction’s offerings, don't pass over this coin too quickly and a take a second to appreciate its importance.”

 I certainly agree, and this lovely near-Gem Red 1909-S VDB is nearly a perfect match with the MS 64 RD 1955 Doubled Die coming up in the Stacks Bowers Baltimore sale! Hey, with these two under your belt, two major obstacles in building a mint state Lincoln Cent collection have been solved!

Until next time, happy collecting!

Jim Bisognani is an NGC Price Guide Analyst, having previously served for many years as an analyst and writer for another major price guide. He has written extensively on US coin market trends and values.


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