A few days ago I started to make a list about each date and what the “scoop” was on finding good examples. I quickly gave up on it because it was daunting and also I wasn’t sure how much detail to put down. For example, should I just mention mint state? Should I say how hard each coin was to get in red, red-brown, and brown? So it petered out before I got past “1920”.
I guess the impetus for doing the list stuck in my brain and some of it came spilling out when I started a communication with a coin collector friend about finding an especially tough date.
One thing I always wondered about are the statistical anomalies in our day to day hunts. For example, I could search for months and not see a decent 1928-S (for instance). Then I go on vacation for a week and there are a dozen on eBay, and all at once! I’ve seen this before. I think it happens to all of us. A collector friend of mine searched for a nice looking 1916 for seven years.
On the other side of the argument, we’ve all had those monsters we “lucked” into finding. A collector comrade has a real touch for 1914 as both his business strike and matte proof are super monsters. The point is that a person can get an idea about the difficulty of a certain coin and the whole thing is colored by luck. The longer you look the more the odds begin to even out but it does take time.
That being said, i did finally make my list! In exceptional condition, I found the following the most frustrating:
- 1909-S. You can find decent ones but the real lookers are almost nowhere to be found.
- 1915-S. I had a dog for 3 years waiting for something I could stand.
- 1917-S. Attractive examples just never show up anywhere.
- 1920-S. You can find nice browns but pristine well struck examples are elusive.
- 1925-S. Notorious for crappy strikes and warped planchets.
- 1927-S. Same as the 1925-S.
These are tough too:
- 1913-S. Often with a warped upper left quadrant on the reverse.
- 1914-S. Better strikes are available but be prepared to pay up the nose.
- 1918-S. A frustrating date to find with both sides of the coin attractive.
- 1919-S. These are everywhere but rarely are they nice.
- 1925-D. Often poorly struck.
- 1926-S. Finding a nice red is near impossible but you can find attractive brown coins.
- 1928-S. Another case where coins are plentiful but rarely are they without spots or other problems.
Finally, the expensive:
- 1909-S VDB. So common really but SO expensive. You can find attractive examples due to many being saved in high grades.
- 1914-D. More common than people think, look at the POP reports, they’re everywhere — but XF or better is major dollars. Even so, it’s hard to find truly beautiful examples. Most are mundane looking with little pop. Color is extremely rare.
- 1921-S. They get you coming and going on these and they are often ugly with stripes.
- 1923-S. Same as above.
- 1924-D. Rare and expensive and often ugly.
- 1924-S. Nice ones exist, but again, you’re going to pay for it.
More Details (Coin by Coin)
1909 VDB. Being the first year of a new issue, these were saved in very large quantities. These are easy to find in any condition up through MS67. A nice example in choice will be well under $100. These are often described as brassy in appearance and the surfaces on a large percentage of them almost appear to be “whizzed”. In plain English, this means the surface has tiny lines everywhere, usually running parallel to each other. Toned examples, while not common can be found with a little patience but expect to pay a small premium. Beautifully toned examples are rarer and can cost up to 3X the guide price.
1909-S VDB. With slightly under a half million minted, you would expect this date to be rare. Countering intuition, in reality this is not at all the case. Population reports reveal that among the early S mint coins, these are actually the most common! The availability however is not reflected in the price. Also, this date is one of the most consistent performers in value of all the early Lincolns. This coin is more of a condition rarity than its VDB cousin from Philadelphia. Very attractive coins are much rarer and if the collector can hold out for one and pay the price, these examples will reward the owner with steady gains in value. While most Lincoln cents have been flat in the last 15 years, the value of a high grade S-VDB has at least doubled. Unfortunately because of the demand for this storied coin, it is also the most often counterfeited Lincoln cent. Basic information on spotting fakes is easily found in books and the internet and it is of absolute importance to familiarize yourself with the necessary information to protect yourself from disappointment and loss of money. Authentication by a major third party grading company is an absolute necessity.
It’s fun to take a few minutes and think about your own experiences with this series!