US Coins

Market Analysis: ‘Common’ Wheat cents often costly in MS-67 red

Lincoln cents are preternaturally popular with collectors, and despite high mintages, many early dates are surprisingly rare in high grades with full Mint red color.

Collectors are increasingly putting pressure on top-graded survivors that have survived the decades with their original color, free of visually offensive carbon spots or contact marks.

Here are three examples of common Lincoln cents that are uncommon, or even rare, in Mint State 67 red condition and that have sold in recent auctions.

1918 Lincoln cent, MS-67 red, CAC, at $14,100

In 1918 more than 288 million Lincoln cents were struck at the Philadelphia Mint. In lower Mint State grades it remains a common coin, but like all copper coins nearly a century old with full Mint red color in nearly perfect grades, it’s a rarity in MS-67 red. 

At Stack’s Bowers Galleries’ March 28 auction held during the Whitman Expo in Baltimore, a 1918 Lincoln cent graded MS-67 red by Professional Coin Grading Service and with a green Certified Acceptance Corp. sticker indicating quality within the grade sold for $14,100. 

The firm described it as “a splendid piece with razor sharp devices, silky smooth surfaces and vivid bright orange luster,” adding that it is a “truly gorgeous Lincoln cent that will make a world of difference in an advanced Lincoln cent Registry Set.” 

Registry sets by grading services PCGS and Numismatic Guaranty Corp. are a primary reason why top-graded coins have soared in price in recent years as they have tapped into a competitive instinct for collectors to compete to create the best set. 

In MS-66 red, the issue is still scarce but much more affordable. At a Feb. 27 Heritage auction a PCGS MS-66 red example brought $822.50.

1909 Lincoln, V.D.B. cent, MS-67 red at $1,057.50

To some it may seem counter intuitive. Why is a comparably graded 1918 Lincoln cent worth more than a 1909 Lincoln, V.D.B. cent? After all, the 1909 Lincoln, V.D.B. cent has a lower mintage of 27,995,000 pieces and is worth far more in circulated grades.

The answer is in survival rates. In 1909 the Lincoln cent was brand new, and collectors and noncollectors alike each wanted one to hold onto. Further, the designer Victor David Brenner’s initials placed prominently at the lower center of the reverse and their subsequent removal later in 1909 brought a lot of attention to the Lincoln cent.

NGC and PCGS have recorded more than 300 submissions at the MS-67 red level for this issue. In comparison, the two firms have seen just 22 submissions at the MS-67 red level for the 1918 cent.

The price is kept high for the 1909 Lincoln, V.D.B. cent because it’s in demand from several hobby sectors. It is considered a distinct design subtype, so it has demand from type collectors. Some people collect first-year-of-issue coins, and others are attracted to the coin because they remember the story from their earliest collecting days. 

In MS-66 red, the price for a 1909 Lincoln, V.D.B. cent drops substantially, with recent sales for gorgeous CAC stickered coins clustered at the $250 to $300 level. 

1937 Lincoln cent, MS-67+ red, CAC at $2,115

In a market where collectors compete for the best, tiny differences in quality and grade make for huge price differences. At a Feb. 27 Heritage auction, this 1937 cent graded MS-67+ red by PCGS, with a green CAC sticker, brought $2,115. A die crack passes through the left side of ONE CENT, a Mint made raised mark and not a scratch.

Like the 1918 Lincoln cent, the 1937 cent is common even in nice Mint State grades through MS-65 red. PCGS and NGC combined have recorded more than 1,500 submissions at the MS-67 red level. However, just one example has been graded MS-68 red at PCGS with none at NGC. 

This puts increased demand on coins with signifiers of quality within the grade, such as a “+” sign or a CAC sticker.

To see the difference that this seemingly small grade change makes for a coin’s value, one needs only to look at prices realized. Heritage sold a PCGS MS-67 red 1937 Lincoln cent for $108.10 at an April 1 auction, and on March 11, the firm sold one graded NGC MS-67 red for $84.

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