The 1909-S VDB ranks as one of the most popular and widely known of all the Lincoln cents and some might argue that it is one of the favorites in the entire run of United States coins. Collectors love coins with stories, and this one has a couple.
First, there's the controversy over the initials on the reverse. When Victor David Brenner created his new design, he placed his full name in tiny letters on the base of the reverse, bottom center. This was nothing new, as other designers and engravers had placed their names and/or initials on coins of the past. As part of modifications to Brenner's models, Mint Engraver Charles Barber changed the name to the artist's three initials (VDB). Once the coins were issued, some newspaper reporters took issue with the placement of the initials, arguing that the bottom of the reverse was far from inconspicuous and that the initials amounted to free, illegal advertising for the designer. Instead of placing the initials elsewhere in new dies, mint employees simply removed them entirely from the coin, and a new round of cents were produced without the VDB.
The short period of time in which the VDB coins were produced in San Francisco led to the second desirable attribute of this coin: it's low mintage. Only 484,000 Cents were issued with the VDB initials, creating an instant scarcity. It's popularity has remained high ever since.
The 1909-S VDB Cent ranked 14th in the second edition of "100 Greatest U.S. Coins" by Jeff Garrett and Ron Guth, reflecting the immense popularity of this date.
A lot has been written about this famous penny and all I can add is two stories that illustrate how deeply ingrained this issue is in the collective consciousness of the coin collecting community. This may be the most well known U.S. coin. The first story is from a presentation I recently gave at a PCGS "members" coin show. I was discussing the "future of the coin market" and the audience was about 40 people. I started the presentation by asking the audience, "How many here have been buying/collecting coins for more than 5 years? 10 years? 20 years?" Then I asked if there was anyone who was an absolute newcomer to the coin market and two people raised their hands. Later in the presentation I was telling stories about how some coins were more popular than others. I asked, "What is the most well known U.S. coin?" and I pointed to one of the gentlemen who had earlier indicated he was a complete newcomer to coin collecting and he answered, "That penny, that 1909-S VDB penny."
The second story involves my son. A few years ago, as a 12 year old, my son was collecting Lincoln cents. We'd go to the Saturday bid board at the local coin shop and he'd go to the Long Beach coin show and buy a few coins. He was buying circulated coins and trying to get one of every date. He would always look at 1909-S VDBs, but he couldn't afford one. One day he made the following statement, "Dad, I'd eat worms for an S VDB." That about says it all, doesn't it.