During the summer of 1908, artist Victor D. Brenner floated an idea to President Theodore Roosevelt: why not issue a new coin in the upcoming year to commemorate the centennial of Abraham Lincoln’s birth? Roosevelt liked the notion and invited Brenner to submit designs.(1)
Brenner modified the bust from a plaque he made as a tribute to Lincoln to serve as the model for the obverse. A pair of wheat stalks encircling “ONE CENT” formed a simple, but dignified reverse.
On August 2, 1909, the Lincoln cent was released to the public. This marked the first time the image of a real person from history appeared on a regular issue United States coin.(2)
The coin was well received in general, but newspaper articles critical of the designer’s initials, VDB appearing somewhat conspicuously at the reverse bottom convinced the Treasury department to suspend production of the new cent on August 5.(3)
Before the end of the VDB cent, the Philadelphia Mint had already struck nearly 28 million of them. The San Francisco Mint did not receive their dies until late June and could only muster 484,000 of the 1909-S VDB cent prior to the order to halt production.(4)
New dies were prepared, minus any initials whatsoever. The initials were restored in 1918 on the base of Lincoln’s shoulder using much smaller letters, where they remain today.(5)
The controversy over the VDB initials generated much publicity. Collectors of the day correctly perceived the 1909-S VDB was destined to become a classic rarity, so they quickly filtered out examples from circulation.
Over the years, many collectors have gotten their start in the hobby with the blue Whitman Lincoln cent album. One of the first things newbies learn is the attainment of the 1909-S VDB is a landmark triumph and a source of pride. Even many non-collectors are aware of this.(6)
The 1909-S VDB has been "King of the Mountain" among Lincoln cents for as long as anyone alive today can remember, and quite valuable. However, it did take a few years for the 09-S VDB to start getting some serious traction.
In Walter Breen's Complete Encyclopedia of U.S. and Colonial Coins, he writes that one dealer, John Zug, purchased 25,000 of them directly from the San Francisco Mint. Around 1918, Zug was selling them for 1.75 cents each.(7)
High grade specimens of the 1909-S VDB, such as MS-67 Red, today can sell for more than $100,000.(8) It's highly probable some of these top sellers came from Zug's stash that were once sold for less than two cents!
Although the 1909-S VDB today exists in numbers larger than one might expect given its small mintage, demand has always outpaced supplies, explaining its powerful value trends over many decades.
But… right now demand has weakened noticeably in recent years (in accordance with its cyclical nature). If past is prologue, expect this famous coin to someday begin yet another ascent into the upper echelons of coin collecting.
|Estimated survivors in all grades: 61,000
? The survivor estimate from PCGS represents an average of one or more experts' opinions as to how many examples survive of a particular coin in all grades. Survival estimates include coins that are raw, certified by PCGS, and certified by other grading services.
Learn more at PCGS.
|PCGS Rarity Scale: 2.3
? The 'PCGS CoinFacts Rarity Scale' assesses the relative rarity of all U.S. coins, based on estimated surviving examples. The scale runs from 1.0 to 10.0. The higher the number, the rarer the coin.
Learn more at PCGS.
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