Jaime Hernandez: The 1926-S Lincoln cent is the toughest business strike Lincoln cent to find in MS65 grade and with completely red surfaces. In fact, the record price for a business strike non error or variety Lincoln cent at a public auction is the 1926-S in MS65 Red, which sold for over $149,000 in 2006. The only other tougher coin to find with completely red surfaces in most grades, is the 1915-S.
Besides having a difficult time in finding a red 1926-S Lincoln cent, this coin is also notorious for being weakly struck on the obverse. Many examples lack most of Lincoln’s hair, beard or ear details and other times the L or I in Liberty and the mint mark are very weakly struck.
If one is lucky enough to find a sharply struck example on the obverse, the odds are that the reverse will lack some of its details. Sometimes the reverse will have weakness in the letters O of One Cent or AM of America.
If weakness is not the problem for this coin, then there is the spotting or staining problem, as this coin is usually found with noticeable spots or unappealing surfaces. Besides the spotting and staining, original luster is also very uncommon for this coin. There are examples which have luster remaining but it is mostly a very dull luster, unlike the vibrant luster seen on many other similar San Francisco wheat cents from the teens and twenties.
Most coins exist in brown and even red brown coins have more brown than red. Any coin which displays more than 60% red, a sharp strike on both obverse and reverse and clean fields is a diamond in the rough.
Therefore, collectors should not be too picky with this coin as the odds are, that you will never find the perfect coin for this date and mint mark. Any example in MS64 to 65 red brown or red is considered a remarkable find.