In the United States today the Lincoln cent is the most popular “classic” collector coin. Uniquely, it holds that position while also being one of the most popular modern coins.
To call the Lincoln cent a classic American coin is to group it with Buffalo nickels, Mercury dimes, Standing Liberty quarters, Liberty Walking half dollars, and Saint-Gaudens double eagles—all well-loved series that were born in the “Renaissance” era of U.S. coinage at the beginning of the 1900s.
Many active hobbyists collect Lincoln cents. So do people who don’t consider themselves numismatists, but simply enjoy saving interesting coins. Among other currently circulating coinage only Washington quarters—specifically, the 1999 to 2008 State quarters—have matched their broad popularity.
Since I started working at Whitman Publishing in 2004, Lincoln cents have never been far from the front burner, measured by reader interest, ongoing numismatic research, and sales of folders, albums, and other hobby supplies.
Serious discussion of publishing a Guide Book of Lincoln Cents got under way in December 2006. Which grades would we include in the price charts, knowing that there are Brown, Red-Brown, and Red color designations in the higher Mint State conditions? “I need to figure out how to make the price grid not look like a bingo board!” author Q. David Bowers told me.
By the spring of 2007 we were gathering images and photographing coins as needed, with staff photographer Tom Mulvaney focusing on early dates and major die varieties. (Tom, at the time, was also photographing hundreds of pieces for the Guide Book of Canadian Coins and Tokens, and the Guide Book of United States Tokens and Medals.)
That June I invited Lincoln cent specialist Charles Daughtrey to write the book’s foreword.
Dave Bowers was simultaneously working on the first edition of the Guide Book of United States Commemorative Coins. He’s always enjoyed working on multiple projects “in parallel,” as he calls it, likening his process to a chess master who used to visit his son’s elementary-school chess club in Shrewsbury: “They had 35 chess boards, and he played 35 opponents all at the same time!”
I touched base with the United States Mint that May, looking for photographs and any new information on Lincoln cents. David W. Lange granted permission to quote from his Complete Guide to Lincoln Cents, and Cherrypickers’ Guide coauthor J.T. Stanton offered to go through his notes and photographs of die varieties. Ken Potter, Bill Fivaz, Kenneth Bressett, Sam Lukes, Stewart Blay, Roger W. Burdette, Randy Campbell, John Dannreuther, Beth Deisher, Lee Gast, Paul Gilkes, Bob Shippee, David Sundman, Frank Van Valen, and other numismatists shared photographs, discussed die varieties, and advised on questions and ideas. This kind of collaboration is fundamental to Dave Bowers’s success as a researcher and author.
In the midst of all this activity, in June 2007, Fred L. Reed pitched his manuscript for a new book on Abraham Lincoln in numismatics. It would develop into two volumes—Abraham Lincoln: The Image of His Greatness, and, later, a sequel, Abraham Lincoln: Beyond the American Icon. Interest was building toward the 2009 bicentennial of Lincoln’s birth.
Dave’s manuscript was done and submitted for final editing before the end of July 2007. Layout and proofing came next, and we sent the book to press in September. (By that time the Sage of Wolfeboro, never one to rest for long, was well into his work on the Whitman Encyclopedia of Colonial and Early American Coins.) In early November I alerted the numismatic press that the book was on its way, and in December 2007 it was in readers’ hands.
Collectors bought tens of thousands of copies of the first edition. When it debuted I wrote: “One of the goals of Whitman’s Bowers Series is to offer the human touch that connects coins to people and to history. A Guide Book of Lincoln Cents lives up to that goal. I believe it will greatly please the numismatists who already collect these coins, and encourage others to start a new collection.”
In an informal poll of 130 hobbyists in the summer of 2018, I found that 33 percent consider themselves active or very active collectors of Lincoln cents (constantly upgrading their sets, collecting die varieties by Fivaz-Stanton number, and/or filling albums and folders); 32 percent consider themselves casual collectors (collecting the coins, but not as their primary interest); 18 percent own some but don’t consider themselves collectors (with more of an accumulation than a collection); and only 17 percent don’t collect or own them at all. Comments from those polled include:
- “I’m an active collector of Lincoln cents. They’re the first coins I started collecting.”
- “I’ve collected them since 1957.”
- “I like getting them from circulation, and also collect the Uncirculated Mint sets and basic Proofs.”
- “Collectors are slowly coming to realize that pleasant and originally toned Lincolns are an overlooked and exciting area to explore—the last untapped field for toners.”
- “Still have the 1909-S V.D.B. hole in my Dansco album . . . the only one missing. I will get one again someday (I’ve had a couple in the past).”
- “I’m working on filling a Whitman album with my daughter, and actively collecting Deep Cameo Proofs for my Lincoln Memorial set.”
- “I love the series. I managed to cherrypick three Matte Proofs out of dealer stock over the years.”
- “I actively collect a registry set, plus an almost-complete raw set. Part of me needed to complete the sets I started as a kid in the 1960s. Back then I could only afford what I found in change. When I finally could afford to buy coins at a shop, this was the first set I worked on.”
- “Absolutely love them. Wheat cents started my joy for the hobby! I collect a wide range now. Currently I am on a repunched-mintmark mission. I keep toners, Mint errors, varieties. I roll-hunt often, and cherrypick to the best of my ability.”
- “Not only do I collect Lincoln cents in albums, I collect albums for Lincoln cents.”
- “Lincolns were my primary collection, and the only date run I ever collected. I was able to assemble a date-and-mintmark set from 1909 to 1933 in average grade of MS-65BN in both NGC and PCGS. It took several years to complete, mostly from 2003 to 2014.”
Hearing this kind of feedback from collectors, studying Whitman’s book and product sales, and keeping up with ongoing research tells me that Lincoln cents are greatly appreciated. They’re a numismatic evergreen—perennially popular—and we’re happy to bring the third edition of Dave Bowers’s Guide Book of Lincoln Cents to the hobby community. It joins a robust list of Lincoln-centric numismatic books that have been published over the past 20-plus years. Collectors will find much new information in this third edition . . . and they can rest assured it won’t be the last.