Just a penny, the United States copper cent is now the one that everybody seems to be chasing. A huge collector base has emerged, due in large part to the internet.
Copper prices are on the rise and all United States Lincoln cents struck prior to the second half of 1982, are made of 95% pure copper. Calculate this rate with today's copper prices and each cent is worth about two and a half cents.
As of this date, it's still illegal to melt United States Lincoln cents. This law is being challenged and most likely will eventually be overturned. Some savvy investors are betting on it and they're socking away cents in hopes of a large return.
These investors are foregoing the numismatic aspect of these coins. The values can be really up there for certain dates. What they are doing is depleting the available supply for collectors to fill the sets they build and to upgrade to better coins. They actually effect the prices on eBay and other auction sites.
As of yet the decline of product has been ahead of the curve and prices haven't caught up for these inexpensive coins. It's a great chance to get in and buy some top graded examples that will undoubtedly become rarities in a few short years.
Another factor is the expanded collector base that has become a global hobby. Collecting United States Lincoln cents is by no means a United States only deal for collectors, they really do span the globe.
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Early United States Lincoln Cents
The wheatback cents
Let's take a look back to the early years and the key date 1909-S-VDB. This coin is the only year that carries the designer's initials on the reverse side of the coin below the wheat stalks. Victor David Brenner was the designer. This feature along with the S mint mark below the date which stands for San Fransisco, combine to make this first year coin one of the kings of any collection. In high grade uncirculated condition this coin is worth thousands of dollars.
Another key date is a short run with extremely l;ow mintage numbers for 1914-D cents. With just over a million coins struck, finding a good example is difficult. High grade uncirculated coins are virtually gone from the market without getting lucky or paying a small fortune. This is what's going to happen to all the semi keys next.
Next we'll talk a little bit about the semi keys. There are a few coins that are already starting to vanish from Ebay, one is the 1924-D another is the 1931-S. Both of these can still be found in uncirculated condition for under a hundred dollars and will certainly follow the key dates soon.
Right now we all still have a chance to get in at any level. The grade you can afford is out there. Pick a level of condition that you'll be able to handle. Start with the key dates to the set and get the best one you can. Then the rest will be less and less money and the set will get easier to fill with time.
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Modern Memorial Reverse United States Lincoln Cents
After 1958, the wheat stalks disappeared from the reverse of the United States Lincoln cent and it was replaced with an artists rendition of the Lincoln Memorial. The composition of the coins remained 95% copper. Every year with this reverse is available in any condition so from this point on the set becomes easy to fill. Some numismatic collectors will limit their set to post 1958 to keep the cost down as well as afford the purchase of high grade examples.
There are also a few years when errors where made at the mint. This includes a doubled die in 1972 and a doubled ear on the president in 1984. In 1983 the words ONE CENT were extremely doubled on the reverse. All of these mint mistakes are highly sought out by collectors and can be readily sold on Ebay for hundreds of dollars. Pretty good for a coin you can find in a bank roll.
I highly recommend RS Yeoman's Redbook of US Coinsto any new collector or investor looking for a general value for each year and mint. It's a very inexpensive handbook with the value for all US coins. Take this book out on the hunt when shopping for examples and you have what you need to look up what the coins are worth when you find them. Taking the word of the seller can be a big mistake so beware.
If you're investing in United States Lincoln cents and you plan on buying high grade examples, I recommend you buy only certified coins from a well known grading company like PCGS or NGC. These are two of the best and both are recognized around the world.
The most important thing about collecting is filling the set you start out to finish. The investment end seeks a gain from future appreciation.