BY JOSHUA MCMORROW-HERNANDEZ & PATRICK IAN PEREZ, EDITOR

Lincoln cents have been popular collectibles since they were first released to the public on August 2, 1909. News accounts describe bustling scenes of people lining up at the Treasury Building in Washington, D.C., and many other distribution points across the United States to obtain limited numbers of the new coin. In 1909, Abraham Lincoln, who was assassinated on April 14, 1865, had been deceased 44 years-a decade fewer in years than beloved President John F. Kennedy has been gone now. When the first Lincoln cents were released in 1909, there were still millions of people who remembered the fallen president, a man, still widely considered the country’s greatest president, who helped reunify a nation torn by internal war and divided by slavery. So, it’s little surprise that the Lincoln cent, which replaced the Indian Head cent (1859-1909), drew praises not just by nostalgic coin collectors, but also from people who remembered, and still missed, the iconic commander in chief.

The Lincoln cent’s popularity only increased during the mid 1930s. That’s when, amid the depths of the Great Depression, the first penny boards enticed cash-strapped numismatists across the country to build collections of Lincoln cents from the coins they could find in circulation. Coin collecting attained phenomenal popularity following World War II, when millions of Americans took up the hobby and assembled Lincoln cent collections. Building a complete business-strike collection of Lincoln cents from circulation represented a difficult, but achievable challenge in the late 1940s and 1950s. With enough dedicated searching, even the lowest-mintage business-strike date of them all, the 1909-S VDB penny (which bears on its reverse the initials of sculptor/engraver Victor David Brenner), could still be found in circulation. Other key dates, including the 1914-D, 1922 no-D, and 1931-S Lincoln cents also kept millions of collectors combing their pocket change. What’s more, in a seeming act of numismatic kismet, one of the most dramatic error varieties of all, the 1955 doubled die Lincoln cent, was released during the height of the hobby’s popularity. The first reported 1943 copper cents-extremely scarce off-metal errors minted when the U.S. Mint struck zinc-plated steel cents to save copper for the war effort-also surfaced.

By the time the last Lincoln Wheat Reverse cents were struck in 1958, the legendary series had firmly cemented its place in the numismatic world. Collecting Lincoln wheat cents remains as popular as ever, and although many casual collectors are still happy to fill their penny folders, advanced collectors focus on high grade-particularly full red-examples. This has been fueled by the creation of registry set collecting and the competition to build the finest possible set. Currently there are a little more than 1,000 sets in the PCGS registry for Lincoln Wheat Reverse cents and nearly 1,400 sets in the Numismatic Guaranty Corporation registry. This concept, along with 30 years of third-party grading, has given the market a much clearer understanding of the scarcity of full red coins by date. This has also caused a substantial increase in submissions of coins that previously would not have been deemed valuable enough to justify the grading cost.

The concept of a full red copper coin is one that is difficult to grasp as a beginning numismatist, but with practice one’s eye is trained to recognize the distinct look of a red cent. By definition a coin designated as red has more than 95% of its original red color. Many factors, from the blend of the alloy used for the planchet, the exposure of the coin to the environment, and storage aspects can affect the color and oxidation of a copper coin.

Incidentally, many categorically common pre-1934 mintmarked Lincoln issues are conditional rarities in grades of MS-66 Red and MS-67 Red, and some are non-existent in either or both of those grades. In the case of several issues, PCGS reports absolutely no full red Lincoln cent survivors in MS-66 or higher, including the 1918-S, 1920- S, 1921-S, and 1922 no-D Strong Reverse. In the cases of some other issues, there are a handful of MS-66 Red examples but no representatives grading higher. PCGS reports zero MS-67 Red specimens of the following: 1911- S, 1912-S, 1913-D, 1913-S, 1914-S, 1915-S, 1916-S, 1917-D, 1917-S, 1919-S, 1920-D, and 1922-D.

Perhaps the biggest epiphany Lincoln cent collectors have experienced since the advent of registry set collecting is that the real regular-issue rarities in this long-running series aren’t necessarily 1909-S VDB pennies. In many cases, they are the issues that many Lincoln enthusiasts, fixated on collecting the popular key dates, sometimes tend to overlook. Consider, for example, the 1913-S Lincoln cent in MS-67 Red. This coin, a semi-key date in any grade, is one of the rarest Lincoln cents around-even rarer than, collectively, the Philadelphia, Denver, and San Francisco bronze cents of 1943 bronzecents, in terms of population figures. PCGS reports just two 1913-S MS-66 Red exist. These are worth a whopping $47,200 according