Coins and Context – BEYOND THE VDB CENTS
Much has been made of the “VDB” cents of 1909 that kicked
off the longest running series of all United States coins. VDB, the monogram of
Victor David Brenner, the designer of the Lincoln Cent, evokes a compelling story
of brilliant artistry with an overlay of political intrigue that hopefully was
well covered in the last Coins and Context article. But – there were five more issues of the
Lincoln cent that collectors have sought over the years with great vigor.
The first of these, the 1909-S cent without the designer’s
VDB, was produced immediately after the initials were removed. The San
Francisco mint had produced far fewer VDB coins than Philadelphia, and likewise
struck far fewer than the central mint of the coins without the VDB. Though collectors paid rather less attention
to the “S no VDB” coin at the outset, over the ensuing decades the 1909-S has
gained in stature, and value.
The US Mint in Denver produced 1,193,000 cents – the third
smallest mintage of all Lincoln Wheat Cents.
But collectors of that time did not realize this, and few were put away
when the coins were new. It wasn’t until two decades later that dealers and
collectors began to realize that most 1914-D cents they encountered were well
circulated coins, and that mint state coins were rarely seen. It was the San Francisco coins that received
more attention in those years – perhaps an echo of the enthusiasm for 1909-S
The other thing to know is that the 1914-D has been frequently
counterfeited, either through alteration of other dated coins, or from castings
made from genuine coins, usually in lower grades. We strongly advise owners of
1914-D cents to have them professionally graded and certified.
What is a 1922 “Plain” cent?
It’s called Plain because it doesn’t have a mint mark. So that makes it
a Philadelphia cent, right? Not this
time. All 1922 cents were made in
Denver. Some were made with defective mint marks, so-called “Weak D’s” and some
few were made with no mint mark at all. Without the “D” they became known as
How did this happen?
Production requirements for the three US Mints were a little
different in 1922. The major requirement
was to strike lots of silver dollars – and as you may know, the 1922 dollars
are very common. In fact, there were no
nickels, dimes, quarters, or halves struck at any of the mints that year. But cents were still needed, so it was
decided that the Denver mint would be the sole producer of cents in 1922.
The 1922 cent production totaled 7 million pieces, which is
the 16th lowest mintage of all Wheat Cents produced from 1909
through 1958. But at that point in time,
at Denver, this was a tall order.
Cent dies were in short supply, and what was on hand was
heavily worn. As dies operated in the
presses, an accumulation of oil, dirt, and metallic dust settled into the
details of the die. This not only wore the die surfaces down more quickly, but
also prevented a full striking of those details as the residue compacted and
hardened under pressure.
The remedy was to frequently clear this debris and polish
the die surfaces. The weakly struck D’s
and many of the omitted D’s can be traced to this cause. Both obverse and
reverse dies tend to be weakly struck.
But the most desirable of the 1922 plain cents (no D
whatsoever) resulted from the striking of one of the die pairs (Die Pair #2)
striking at full force with no coin blanks in the press! This resulted in heavy damage to the reverse
die which was immediately replaced with a newer die. (You know you have a 1922 plain from Die #2
because the reverse is strongly struck.)
The obverse die, though well worn, was considered salvageable with
repair and polishing. This was
accomplished, but when the die polisher encountered the mangled mint mark on
this die he just polished it off altogether.
It is unclear whether this was overlooked by management in error or
accepted as expedient to the demanding production requirement.
At a total mintage of 866,000 coins, the 1931-S cent has the
second to lowest mintage of all Wheat Cents.
However, many have survived, including a substantial number of mint
The 1931-S was produced early in the year. 1931 was by many accounts the bottom of the
Great Depression. The economy was sluggish in the extreme. Prices were going
down as business declined. Though pennies were being pinched, they were not
Consequently, much of the production wasn’t even released
until 1935. It is thought that coin
dealers and speculators may have snapped up a substantial portion of these
uncirculated coins at that time. The relative abundance of the coin in mint
state attests to this. Nevertheless, gem uncirculated (MS65 and above) are
scarce, with prices to match.
1955 Double Strike
Near the end of the Wheat Cent series comes a truly
spectacular doubling error. Little is subtle about this one, at least as far as
the date and lettering on the obverse are concerned. In 1955 The Philadelphia
Mint managed not to catch doubling details fully viewable without
How this happened requires some understanding of the die
making process, the quality control measures in place, as well as the
requirement for a sudden increase in cent production mandated by a new one cent
First the dies…
Dies are the result of a process that begins when a coin
design is first executed by the designer in plaster. The mechanical reduction
of this to a steel Master Hub gets the design to the scale of the coins to be
produced. Next, Master dies are produced
as impressions of the Master Hub.
Multiple Working Hubs are made from the Master Dies. The actual coin dies are made from two
impressions of from the Working Hubs. Two impressions are required to produce
coin dies that will strike the design sharply into the coin-to-be.
In the case of the 1955 doubling, the two impressions were
not perfectly aligned. The photos indicate just how far off they were!
Although up to seven people had oversite for quality
control, no one caught the error.
Apparently, the urgency of the production schedule to meet the needs of
the cigarette tax meant that coin production extended to a “graveyard” shift
from midnight to 8 AM on the day the 1955 double die obverse coins were
When the Chief Coiner arrived in the morning an assistant
showed him an example of the doubled die coins. The overnight production was
already loaded on trucks for distribution. It was decided that the 20,000 or so
double die cents were not worth holding up the shipment of several million
Because awareness of this coin was front and center from the
outset, most are found in XF or above condition.