A Pack of Marlboros and 2 Double Dies Please
The Lincoln Cent series began in 1909, the 100th anniversary of the birth of Abraham Lincoln. For nearly 50 years the series had several famous coins (1909-S VDB, 1914-D, etc.) but nothing too unusual. Then, in the mid-1950s, the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia unintentionally created a very special error coin that would become world famous!
During the preparation of the working die for the 1955 Lincoln Cent, a slight misalignment occurred, causing the obverse die to have a doubling of the letters and numbers. Originally, no one noticed this misalignment and the mint began to strike coins as usual. However, after about 40,000 coins were struck using this die, someone at the mint noticed there was strong and pronounced doubling of the date and both mottos.
Production was halted while the mint determined what to do next. Of the 40,000 coins struck, over 24,000 had already been released to the public. Many of them had been mixed in with other cents ready for distribution, so the mint decided not to do anything about it and to not tell the public. That tuned out to be an even bigger mistake!
Some of the coins were distributed to upstate New York where the error was “discovered” and soon it became popular racing in price from a few cents to over $10! Around that same time, other coins were discovered in packs of cigarettes in vending machines, as the cost for a pack of Marlboros was 23¢. At that time, two new cents were enclosed in the outside packaging so cigarette vending machines could charge a quarter for a pack. Once it was discovered that some of these rare coins were packaged in vending machines, cigarette machines all over New England were emptied by coin collectors, hoping to strike it rich with not one but two ‘55 Doubled Dies with a pack of cigarettes. And some people got exactly that – 2 error coins with their cigarettes.
As more coins were found, the demand continued to increase. Soon, this error variety was listed in all of the coin guide books. The Whitman Publishing Company, who made those famous blue folders for collecting coins, soon included it in their coin books. Now every collector wanted one.
The price continued to increase to more than $50, which was a meteoric rise for a Lincoln Cent back in the 1950s. Today a well circulated Very Fine example costs more than $1,600! Sometimes making a mistake may be bad for some (mint employees) and good for others (coin hunters)!