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 varieties, but tend to focus on those which are more widely available. A case in point is the 1969-S Doubled Die Lincoln Cent (Buy on eBay). The issue features doubling which is just as dramatic as the more famous doubled 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 raised design from the working hub is transferred to the die as an incuse design by making multiple impressions to fully bring up all of the details. On rare occasion, the die or the hub will shift slightly between impressions. Later this will be visible on the actual coins as distinct impressions with some measure of separation. Only certain portions of the design will appear doubled, usually the date lettering are most prominent.
Most doubled dies are minor and require magnification to be seen. However, a 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 number minted will be a very small percentage of the overall mintage for the issue.
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 Cent, 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 mistake was discovered very shortly after the die was placed into service and stuck only a few pieces before it was removed from production and presumably destroyed. A few coins managed to escape the mint and reach circulation, with the variety first reported in July 1970.
Since the initial discovery, very few additional examples of the variety have turned up. Over the past few decades, a handful have been uncovered within unsearched rolls. Some estimates of the total number of examples known range as high as 40 (based on certification numbers of both PCGS and NGC combined) but this number may be optimistic.
In 2007, one of the highest graded examples of the variety was found within an unsearched roll. Such rolls have become increasing scarce each year as collectors have opened them to hunt for the rare variety.
Finest Known and Values
According to population reports, the finest known example of the 1969-S Doubled Die Lincoln Cent is a piece graded PCGS MS66-RD. This is followed by a single example graded NGC MS65-RD and two examples graded PCGS MS64-RD. The highest reported sale is for one of the PCGS MS64-RD examples, which sold for $126,500 in 2008.
Besides the small number of uncirculated pieces, most of the other certified 1969-S Doubled Die Lincoln Cents grade AU with brown surfaces. This indicates that the coins 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 $20,000 to $30,000. For a modern coin, this certainly is a tremendous amount which is not easily surpassed by any other variety.
It bears mentioning that there is another doubled die Lincoln Cent that is even rarer than the 1969-S. This is the 1958 Doubled Die, of which presently only three examples are known. Dramatic doubling is apparent on the obverse mottoes, and less pronounced doubling is visible on the date. This variety was not discovered until the 1980’s, and remains little known today due to its extreme rarity.