From the March 2002 issue of ACCent, the newsletter of the Anchorage Coin Club:
Is It Time To Collect Lincoln Cents?
By Mike Nourse
Those of you who regularly read numismatic periodicals are well aware that in June 2001, Representative Jim Kolbe of Arizona introduced legislation that would put an end to the minting of the cent after over 200 years of nearly uninterrupted production. Will this cause a surge in the popularity of building sets of Lincoln cents or cause them to fade into obscurity?
There is no way to answer this question with any certainty. The most recent extermination of an entire denomination was 20 years ago, in 1981, when the last Susan B. Anthony dollars were struck and it was uncertain whether dollar coins would ever be produced again. This actually did help increase the popularity of the Eisenhower and Anthony dollars as ‘complete’ sets could now be built. Prices increased modestly though they certainly did not run away to the upside.
Is it valid to compare the end of the dollar denomination in 1981 with the end of the one cent piece? Certainly not. The first big difference is that the Lincoln cent is consistently the most popularly collected coin in U.S. numismatics, while the Eisenhower and Anthony dollars enjoy a strong collector base but are not at the top of the heap. Occasionally Lincoln cents get bumped form their position as the most collected U.S. coin (most recently by Morgan dollars), but they are always very near the top of the list.
The other big difference between Eisenhower and Anthony dollars versus Lincoln cents is availability of high-grade coins. No searching is required to build a complete set of the two dollar designs; one must only write out a check to a coin dealer to have both complete sets in nice Uncirculated and Proof condition. Lincoln cents minted from 1934 to present are also readily available and may be purchased as a set, but the 25 years prior to that require some searching to find in anything better than Average Circulated condition. If you want the early Lincolns in Uncirculated condition it will really require some persistence to find some of the dates.
So, we really do not have any good examples of a denomination coming to an end to use to predict what will happen to the price of Lincoln cents when they are finally discontinued. However, we can speculate, and I speculate that they will go much higher at first then stabilize at the new higher levels.
As stated above, Lincoln cents are unquestionably popular. Even collectors who are not actively pursuing this series right now probably have a partial set that they put aside to be completed at some time in the future, or a complete set that desperately needs some upgrading. Admit it, even you have a set of Lincolns that fits in one of these two categories! When the denomination is finally ended, there will be lots of publicity surrounding the event (at least in numismatic circles), and that will certainly prompt some collectors to dust off the old Lincoln set and fill those remaining holes and replace the few duds that were purchased to ‘temporarily’ fill a gap in the collection. Just knowing that a particular set of coins can be completed once and for all holds a lot of appeal to many collectors.
News of the cent’s demise will also get some airtime from the general media. There is always the chance that some folks who had given up the hobby in the past may have their interest piqued once again by this news bringing back fond memories of filling those blue Whitman folders.
The combination of existing collectors completing and upgrading their Lincoln cent sets combined with new and returning collectors joining the hobby could put serious price pressure on certain cents. Why just certain cents and not all of them? Simply, because many of the Lincolns are downright common, no realistic amount of demand will be adequate to increase their price substantially.
Which Lincoln cents would stand to benefit the most in price from an increase in collector demand? Virtually all Lincoln cents from the 1940’s through the present are readily available in huge quantities, both as singles and by the roll. Some dates in the 1940’s may increase in value in Uncirculated condition as demand outstrips supply, but the real action should occur in the 1909 to 1939 era. Most dates from the 1930’s are readily available in Uncirculated, but they are not super abundant. Few rolls from the 1930’s remain, as they have mostly been broken up to build BU sets. Prices could certainly increase for dates in the 1930’s in Uncirculated, particularly the D and S issues. All dates in this decade are common in all circulated grades, save the 1931-S, and should see little or no price pressure.
Few dates from 1909 through 1929 are truly common in Uncirculated. Original BU rolls are few and far between (the only one I have ever owned was a 1929-S). There will be price pressure on the limited supply of Uncirculated coins of this era, but I think the real action here could be in the high circulated grades as few collectors will aspire to assemble a complete set of Lincolns in MS-60 or better condition. Virtually all Lincolns from 1909 to 1929 are plentiful in grades of Average Circulated through Very Good, even the semi-keys, but are decidedly difficult to find in quantity in Fine, Very Fine, and Extra Fine.
The two big keys, the 1909-S V.D.B. and the 1914-D, will obviously see price pressure as they are indisputably needed to complete the set, while the popular error coins that are sometimes included are optional. The supply of both of these coins is very limited in all undamaged conditions. Their ultimate prices depend on exactly how many people enter the market for Lincoln cents once their end is imminent.
To conclude, I think that the best bets for price appreciation are in nice Uncirculated Lincolns form the 1930’s, Fine through Extra Fine coins from the 1909 through 1929 era, and the two big key coins in any undamaged condition. These are three parts of the set that are very popular with collectors while having a limited supply and still quite reasonable prices. Consider how nice a set of Lincolns looks with the 1909 through 1933 coins in Very Fine or Extra Fine and the 1934 through present pieces in Mint State and Proof condition. I would be proud to own such a set.
So, will the Lincoln cent be discontinued anytime soon? Nobody knows right now, but probably not for at least a few years. Realistically it is only being produced and used for sentimental reasons. The actual face value is so low as to be irrelevant.
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