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Memorial Varieties Fill Out Cent Set
By Ginger Rapsus, Numismatic News
April 08, 2013

This article was originally printed in Numismatic News.
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Why would any numismatist be interested in collecting Lincoln Memorial cents? These coins are probably the most common coins to be found. Some people save cents in piggy banks. Many folks don’t even bother to pick one up from the sidewalk. Mintage figures for most of these coins are in the billions, with the 1982-P topping 10 billion minted. Are these coins special?

Lincoln Memorial cents were minted for 50 years, 1959-2008. They can be collected in top condition, as proofs and for the variety lover, Memorial cents can prove to be a new challenge.

Frank Gasparro designed the Lincoln Memorial reverse; his initials appear on the right side of the building. Fans of beautiful coin designs did not like it all that much and claimed the Memorial looked more like a trolley car. The first Lincoln Memorial cents were struck in 1959 on the 150th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birth. Look carefully – Lincoln is on both sides of this coin. The famous statue of Lincoln in the Memorial can be seen within the pillars of the building.

The following year, a popular variety appeared, that sent collectors searching. The large- and small-date cents of 1960 are easily discerned by the naked eye. The large date is more common. Large- and small-date cents were also issued in proof sets, with the small date the scarcer variety, selling for about 10 times as much as a large date.

Large- and small-date varieties also exist for the 1970-S, 1982-P and 1982-D. While not as popular as the 1960 cents, the differences are there for an observant collector to find.

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Collectors who know of the 1955 doubled-die cent have a few doubled-die coins to find within this series. The 1969-S cent with a doubled-die obverse is a genuinely rare variety, selling for tens of thousands of dollars. Doubles-die obverses are known for cents dated 1970-S, 1971-P, 1971-S, 1972-P and 1995-P. There is also a double-die reverse known for 1983-P. Checking your “common” cents found in change can give a collector big dividends.

Some 1984-P cents show Lincoln with a doubled ear. The bottom of the ear lobe is clearly doubled. This variety sells for a few hundred dollars and may be found in change.

The first series of small cents, the Flying Eagle cents, have a famous 1858 variety where the letters AM in “America” are joined or separated. The Lincoln Memorial cents have a variety with the letters AM either close together or widely spaced. The close AM coins on coins where wide spacing should be the norm are found in 1992-P, 1992-D, 1998-S and 1999-S. Many of these are unpriced in the Red Book, while the 1999-S has a price of $90 – not bad for a “common” modern cent. Wide AM cents where close should be the norm include 1996-P, 1998-P, 1999-P, and 2000-P. The 1999-P is priced at $500.

The 1979-S and 1981-S proof cents have distinctly different mintmarks, one with a filled “S,” the other with a more clear “S.” The 1981-S with the clear “S,” called the Type 2, sells for a good amount more than its Type 1 companion. The variation makes little difference in the price of the 1979 coins.

Metallic compositions of Lincoln Memorial cents changed over the years. The first years of issue, 1959-1962, were made of 95 percent copper and 5 percent tin and zinc. The tin was removed entirely from the 95-percent copper alloy in cents from 1962-1982. Cents from 1982 are copper-plated zinc. Both compositions were used in 1982.

Besides changes to the metallic content, differences in the portrait of Lincoln can be seen. The 1968 cents look rather mushy, compared to the 1969, when the dies were modified. Dies were again modified in 1973 and 1982. Close looks at the familiar portrait show this plainly.

Specialists in the Roosevelt dime seek the proof coins lacking the “S” mintmark. There is a proof Lincoln Memorial cent of 1990-S without the mintmark. About 150-200 of these “no S” cents are known, with values in the thousands of dollars.

Collectors who want the very best may want to collect proof specimens of the Lincoln Memorial cent. Proofs were made each year except 1965-1967, when Special Mint Sets were made. The SMS cents are quite pretty in their own way, and represent the best the United States Mint had to offer during the time of a nationwide coin shortage and when silver was removed from coinage.

There is a rarity – a prototype of a 1964 SMS cent exists. A few dozen 1964 SMS sets were struck, with coins from these sets seldom seen or offered for sale.

The Lincoln Memorial set ends with the 2008 coins. Four special cents were minted in 2009, on the occasion of Abraham Lincoln’s 200th birthday and the 100th anniversary of the Lincoln cent.

After 2009, the reverse motif was changed to the Union shield, still being used today.

Overlooked by many numismatists, the Lincoln Memorial series is a big set with a lot to offer for collectors with a sharp eye and an appreciation for Mint varieties.

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