AoC Market Report: Lincoln Cents Winning and Losing

Let’s look at Lincolns, shall we? How about Wheats? You like that? I do. Okay. Game on.

So this is some interesting stuff. I chose 4 Lincolns to deep dive: 1909-S VDB Lincoln Wheat Cent, 1909 plain, 1956 Wheat Cent and 1957. I then looked at public auction results for coins certified Mint State 66 Red and finer. I compared these findings to the major price guides: PCGS, NGC, and FMV. Here’s what I found.

1909-S VDB Lincoln Wheat Cents Certified Mint State 66 Red and Finer

In general, the popular price guides don’t concur with the public auction results. Now look, I’m not saying that these price guides are wrong! I’m just saying the numbers they’re reporting are different than what I can see publicly, their numbers are somewhat different than what we’re seeing in sales around here.

1909-S VDB Lincoln Wheat Cent in Mint State 67 Red, Obverse. A nice coin if you can get it! These coins have been falling in price in recent years. If you feel they'll go back up in value, now may be your time to buy!
1909-S VDB Lincoln Wheat Cent in Mint State 67 Red, Obverse. A nice coin if you can get it! These coins have been falling in price in recent years. If you feel they’ll go back up in value, now may be your time to buy!

But we know all of the guys doing the price guides, and they’re very good. It’s an immense task to keep these prices updated, especially when we have a bit of a bear market, as we do now. Prices fluctuate quickly, price guides do and should fluctuate slowly. The major difference between my analysis (one guy talking with a few folks) and the major price guides is that the price guides have a network of dealers that they talk to to get accurate private sales reporting. The auctions don’t always tell the whole story, and I rely on the auctions.

1909-S VDB Lincoln Wheat Cent in Mint State 67 Red, Reverse. These coins aren't coming to market often, surely frustrating the Registry Set collectors.
1909-S VDB Lincoln Wheat Cent in Mint State 67 Red, Reverse. These coins aren’t coming to market often, surely frustrating the Registry Set collectors.

To the point: right now 1909-S VDBs in ‘6 Red are selling all over the place. There have been some sales in the six grand range, there have been some as high as 14 or 15k for CAC coins. On average, what I’m seeing points to what I would consider to be about a 10k average auction sale price.

Now these are ‘6 Reds. They’re nice coins. Some are nicer than others for Mint State 66 Red, but they’re all ‘6s. By the way, I’m staying away from Red-Browns and Browns because toning. RBs can be all over the place if they’re beautifully toned. I mean, looking at this data, ‘6 Reds are all over the place and they’re just one grade point isolated. That’s why price guides are sometimes not the way to price a coin. They are a good starting place.

FMV is closest on 66-RD, reporting a price guide value of $10,270. That’s pretty close to in line with what I see. NGC is next closest, saying $13,750. PCGS is who-the-hell-knows-where-they’re-getting-that from at 24k. That’s more than twice what it should be, and simply not realistic. No non-CAC non-Plus 66 RD will ever sell for 24k. That’s nuts. It must be a mistake – no big deal.

In general, they seem to be standing pat. They may be dropping slightly in value right now, as all of the price guides report minus on their latest price updates.

I’m seeing MS-66+RDs sell around 20k. There haven’t been a ton to hit the market in the past few years. Some are a little below, some are right around that, so I think it’s fair. 66-Red CAC coins seem to be getting around 25k, but again, sporadic data.

Ten years ago there were no plus coins, and the pops have appeared to mainly cannibalise the lower grade, rather than the higher one. That is to say that some 66-RDs have become 66+RDs, but it doesn’t look like many 67-RDs fell to 66+, on the contrary, a couple have gone ‘7+. In the past ten years, there are nearly 100 new 66 Reds, 23 new 66+s, and the number of 7s have almost doubled.

So on to Mint State 67 Red 1909-S VDB Lincoln Wheat Cents. No ‘7+s have sold recently. According to what I’ve seen, the 7s are trading in the low $60,000 range, meaning a price guide value of 65 – 70k is appropriate. For some reason, the price guides are very different here, telling me that perhaps coins are trading privately for much more (but I don’t think so.) PCGS is actually closest on this one with a realist $72,500 and FMV just a bit off compared to my calculations at $88,400. NGC is often the crazy price maestro and they don’t disappoint, showing a price guide value of $145,000 which is so unrealistic for a Mint State 67 coin, it’s nuts. It could be they undergraded some of their coins or it could be that they haven’t updated price guide in a while. Or it could be that they’re accounting for CACs. Who knows? The point is I haven’t seen any reliably graded 7s trade for that much in a long time.

S VDBs in 7 are definitely falling (seemingly precipitously) in value, in general. So if you have one, now is not the time to sell. If you’re looking for one, now could be a great time to buy.

1909 Lincoln Wheat Cent

To counterpoint the mighty 1909-S V.D.B, next I’ll look at humble, plain ol’ 1909s. They’re not scarce in 6, but they’re scarce in 7 and getting conditionally rare in Mint State 67+ RD.

From what I’ve seen, 1909s graded Mint State 66 Red are falling only slightly in value at sales around $275. Oddly, in ‘6+ Red the seem to be languishing, losing some price at only $500 these days. 66 CACs are going up slightly in value at around 400, and it’s interesting to me that the CAC premium isn’t strong for this coin in this grade.

1909 Lincoln Cent certified Mint State 66 Red, Obverse. These seem to be selling for an average of $275 at time of writing, and falling only slightly in value at the moment.
Here’s a lovely looking 1909 Lincoln Cent (no S, no VDB) certified Mint State 66 Red, Obverse. These seem to be selling for an average of $275 at time of writing, and falling only slightly in value at the moment.

Comparing to major price guides, PCGS shows them at $550, which is way higher than what I see, and there’s seemingly plenty of auction results to back up my stand. NGC shows them at $425, which is still high but not silly, while FMV shows them at $312, which seems pretty fair.

1909 Lincoln Cent certified Mint State 66 Red, Reverse. Look at that toning! If the patina appeals to you more than the spots detract, a coin like this could make a rather nice first-year piece for your type set.
1909 Lincoln Cent (no S, no VDB) certified Mint State 66 Red, Reverse. Look at that toning! If the patina appeals to you more than the spots detract, a coin like this could make a rather nice first-year piece for your type set.

Even at Mint State 67, these coins are not appreciating. This goes back to that adage which doesn’t seem to fit the time right now: “buy the best you can get.” Maybe not. Not right now, at least. On the other hand, maybe they’re stalled and about to start going back up. What do I know? Not much. ‘7 CACs carry a serious premium, looking to me to be worth around $4,000 these days. There have been no ‘7+s sold to compare against.

1956 and 1957 Lincoln Wheat Cents

I also looked at ’56s and ’57s. The one thing I noticed in all of my studies across Lincolns is that inexpensive coins, coins selling for under $200, in general have been increasing in value. I put this on the next generation of collector coming in, buying up affordable stock. These are tough coins to make at this price point unless you’re a dealer with a nifty deal with a TPG, so if I were to take a guess I’d say the pops aren’t skyrocketing, but I’ll bet they’re going up.

Unfortunately, my hypothesis didn’t hold quite true, at least for 1956s and 1957s. All inexpensive Mint State 66 1956 Lincolns are seemingly falling in value. For 1957, the tune was different, with all lower-end coins (including Mint State 66+ Reds, selling around $275) losing value. It seems like ‘7s are faring better, and ‘7 Red CACs seem to be appreciating.

So that’s the story. Depending on what you think of this bull run for low-end Lincolns, it might be a great time to get in. If you think the big coins will stay bearish for the foreseeable future, stay out, otherwise get in while the deals are good – when you can get them. The sellers are seemingly smart enough not to let loose to the market, so if you see one, get it while you can.


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