Background and History
Some individual varieties of United States coins are so rare that they are not well known outside of specialists. The general collecting public may have some awareness of these issues, but tend to focus on the more widely available varieties. A case in point is the 1969-S Doubled Die Lincoln Cent. The issue features doubling which is just as dramatic as more popular and highly collected double dies, yet its significant rarity and infrequent availability serve as barriers to any widespread collectability.
Doubled dies are created during the process when coin dies are being produced from the hub. The design from the hub is transferred to the working dies, which are inverted, so to strike the coins normally. The transfer process happens with multiple impressions to bring up all the details of the design on the working dies. Occasionally the die or the hub will shift slightly during the transfer process. This will later be visible on the actual coins as distinct impressions with some measure of separation. Only certain parts of the design will appear doubled, usually most prominently in certain portions of the date or lettering.
Most doubled dies are minor and require magnification to be seen. However, a certain number of issues are more dramatic and can be detected without magnification. Among these are the 1955 and 1969-S Lincoln Cents and the 1916 Buffalo Nickel, each of which commands strong premiums on the market. Since every doubled die is only produced from a single die, the mintage is usually only a very small percentage of the overall mintage for the coin itself.
It should be noted that there is another type of doubling known as machine doubling. This occurs when the dies shift very slightly when a coin is being struck. Machine doubled coins occur more frequently and typically command little or no premium in the marketplace. These coins are usually identified by all devices and design elements being doubled, including the mintmark. The mintmark is not doubled on genuine doubled dies since the hubbing process occurs before the mintmark is punched into the die.
On a genuine 1969-S Doubled Die Lincoln Cents, the doubling can be found on the obverse die (thus the designation DDO, meaning Doubled Die Obverse). Strong doubling shows on both IN GOD WE TRUST and LIBERTY. Slightly less prominent doubling can be found on the date as well. The separation of the letters is extremely strong and can be easily noted without magnification. As previously mentioned, on genuine examples the mintmark and the portrait of Lincoln will show no doubling.
Key Date Coin Mintage
The 1969-S Doubled Die Lincoln Cent represents a significant rarity with very limited distribution. It appears that the error was discovered very shortly after the die was placed into production and stuck very few pieces before it was taken out of production and presumably destroyed. The variety was discovered in July 1970 meaning that a few coins managed to escape the mint and reach circulation.
Since the initial discovery, very few additional examples of the variety have turned up. In the last few decades a few have been found in unsearched rolls, but as can be expected, the number is extremely small. Some estimates of the total number of examples known range to as high as 40 (based on certification numbers of both PCGS and NGC combined) but this number may be optimistic.
One of the highest graded examples was found in an unsearched roll of 1969-S Doubled Die Lincoln Cents in 2007. Such unsearched rolls have become increasing scarce each year as collectors have opened them to search for the rare variety. Once these rolls disappear from the market we might not see another increase of the population of this mega rarity for a long time to come.
Finest Known and Values
The finest known examples of the 1969-S Doubled Die Lincoln Cent are two pieces which have been graded MS-64RD by PCGS. One of these sold for an amazing $126,500 in January 2008, while the other sold for $86,250 in November 2010.
Most of the other certified 1969-S Doubled Die Lincoln Cents grade AU with brown surfaces. This indicates that they circulated for a short time before they were discovered and pulled from circulation. The value of these truly depends on the eye-appeal of each individual coin although auction records indicate that a nice mid-grade AU sells for approximately $35,000 when offered at auction. For a modern coin this certainly is a tremendous amount which is not easily surpassed by any other variety.
It has to be said that there is one Lincoln Cent that is even rarer than the 1969-S Doubled Die Lincoln Cent. This is the 1958 Doubled Die, of which presently only two examples are known. The doubling is as dramatic as the 1955 and 1969-S Doubled Die Lincoln Cents yet is not as well known thanks to its extreme rarity. At present, over 60 years after its creation, only two examples have ever been found.