US Coins

Stack's Bowers gears up for Baltimore auction

Stack’s Bowers Galleries is ready for its first major U.S. coin auction of the year as it hosts the official auctions at the upcoming Whitman Baltimore Spring Expo, March 22 to 25, at the Baltimore Convention Center.

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Among the lead consignments is the ESM collection — the top-ranked Professional Coin Grading Service Registry Set of Circulation Strike Lincoln Cents with Major Varieties. Included is one of just three known 1958 Lincoln, Doubled Die Obverse cents, with prominent doubling seen on LIBERTY and IN GOD WE TRUST that rivals the better-known 1955 and 1972 Lincoln, Doubled Die Obverse cents in terms of spread.

While the major 1955 and 1972 doubled dies were discovered by eagle-eyed collectors soon after they were minted, the 1958 variety became widely known by general collectors only in the early 1980s, and when David Lange published The Complete Guide to Lincoln Cents in 1996, just a single example was certified, then-graded Mint State 64 red by ANACS. This example has subsequently been crossed to a PCGS holder, retaining the MS-64 red grade.

The finest known example, graded PCGS MS-65 red, is in the collection of cent specialist Stewart Blay. The three known examples allegedly all came from a Mint-sewn bag of Lincoln cents and it’s possible that the variety never reached general circulation. That the population has remained stable for decades seems to confirm this theory.

The subject coin, at PCGS MS-64 red, carries a PCGS Price Guide value of $125,000, which is especially useful because of the lack of comparable sales in the marketplace to provide guidance on value. PCGS calls it a “mega-rarity” and its database shows no examples that have been previously sold at auction.

The cataloger Jeff Ambio concluded in his description for the lot to be sold in Baltimore, “Our offering of this coin represents a highly significant and fleeting bidding opportunity for the legion of collectors that has made the Lincoln cent series one of the most popular in U.S. numismatics.”

Another standout in the ESM collection is a 1969-S Lincoln, Doubled Die Obverse cent, also graded MS-64 red by PCGS, and carrying a green Certified Acceptance Corp. sticker indicating quality within the grade. It is tied with one other as the finest certified at PCGS and shows wide spreading on the date and Mint mark, motto and LIBERTY. The variety was discovered soon after it was minted. The U.S. Treasury Department initially thought that the variety represented a clever counterfeit coin, but it was soon proven a legitimate product of the U.S. Mint.

Many examples show light wear, meaning that they entered circulation, and reports of finds are published every few years including coins plucked from circulation, providing hope to cherrypickers. Stack’s Bowers estimates that 40 to 50 are known.

The offered example brought $86,250 when it was presented at Bowers and Merena’s November 2010 Baltimore Auction.

The 1969-S cent (as are the more available and better-known major 1955 and 1972 Lincoln, Doubled Die Obverse cents) is referred to as Class I Rotated Hub doubled dies. As error specialist Ken Potter explained in a Coin World article on the discovery of a 1969-S DDO cent that was pulled from change in 2010, “This class of doubling occurs when there is a rotational misalignment between images.” Potter wrote, “Hub doubling, creating what collectors commonly refer to as a doubled die, is possible because of a phenomenon known as work hardening. This causes the metal of the face of a die to become too hard and too brittle to allow a complete image to be sunk into the die in one operation without causing it to crack or shatter (during the multiple hubbing process). As a result, several impressions or hubbings were required to produce a die when this process was used.”

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The 1958 variety is either a Class I doubled die or an example of a Class V Pivoted Hub doubled die, depending on the expert. It was initially listed as Class V and later as Class I.

Both of these cents will be offered at Stack’s Bowers Galleries’ Rarities Night auction on March 22, alongside other important Lincoln cent varieties from the collection.

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