The Lincoln cent is one of the most popular United States series, and over its century-plus run that began in 1909 it has spawned a multitude of exciting varieties. Among the rarest breed of these are doubled dies, and many collectors know the most popular pieces by heart, including the 1955, 1969-S, 1972, 1983, and 1995 doubled dies. Of course, there are dozens of others attributed in the series, yet most of those remain relatively obscure except to the most enthusiastic series specialists. And then there’s one Lincoln cent doubled die variety that is so rare, so elusive that few ever really even attempt to collect it. That variety is none other than the 1958 Doubled Die Lincoln Cent.
The 1958 FS-101 (Class I) Doubled Die Lincoln Cent yields only three known specimens. It’s incredible to think that this variety has existed for more than six decades, belonging to one of the most widely collected series, and has offered the world just three specimens. Not only is this a testament to the true and extreme rarity of this piece, but it also serves as a reminder that the Lincoln cent series offers real challenges to even the most tenacious and financially well-heeled of collectors.
From the pure standpoint of the coin being a doubled die, this 1958 variety is quite impressive. The hub doubling is strikingly visible to the naked eye in the obverse inscriptions IN GOD WE TRUST and LIBERTY, with doubling also evident upon closer inspection in the date. The most sought-after doubled dies are the ones that don’t require magnification to clearly notice, and the 1958 doubled die showcases doubling that can be spotted from a proverbial mile away. And, again, this hearkens back to an earlier point – how have only three of these coins been discovered in more than 60 years? Yes, fewer collectors are aware of this coin’s existence than they are, say, of the 1955 or 1969-S doubled dies. But with doubling as prominent as that seen on this 1958 variety, it’s difficult to believe that even an unassuming collector could not pick this piece out from a crowd.
And while three may be a crowd, three is but a tiny number in the context of numismatic mintage figures. While the 1958 doubled die is not as widely known as some of its more prevalent – and numerous – doubled die counterparts, there are surely enough collectors who want this piece for their collections and are willing to pay a pretty penny for the rare opportunity to acquire an example of this ultra-rarity that now sells in the six figures.
There is a tiny number of collectors who have had the great fortune of happening upon this coin for the mere price of face value. The 1958 doubled die was first discovered by Philadelphia collector Charles Ludovico, who was looking through a $50 face bag of 1958 Lincoln cents around 1960. That specimen was submitted to the United States Mint, where officials confirmed the coin as genuine. The coin later appeared in an early 1980s edition of Errorama and was listed by David Lange in his authoritative 1996 book The Complete Guide to Lincoln Cents, when just one specimen was known. Also, in 1996, the first third-party certified example in an alternative holder and graded MS64RD took $25,025 at auction. In 2000, by which time that same specimen had crossed into a PCGS slab with the same grade of MS64RD, it snagged $57,500.
In the years since, two other pieces have appeared. Still demand for this coin is so great that the effective tripling of the coin’s population in less than a quarter century has not at all suppressed prices. All three known examples reside in PCGS holders, with two grading MS64RD and the single-finest known certified as an MS65RD. When there are only three known examples of the coin, it’s plausible that the only thing rarer than the 1958 Doubled Die Lincoln Cent is the number of opportunities in one’s lifetime to buy it.
Recent auction records are scant for this elusive coin, though one of the two PCGS MS64RD examples most recently traded hands at a March 2018 Stack’s Bowers Galleries auction for $336,000 – an all-time record for the 1958 Doubled Die Lincoln Cent. Suffice it to say, there are few United States coins struck after World War II that regularly sell for six figures, let alone more than $300,000. It’s a rarity that few collectors will ever have the chance of owning, and yet it’s a coin that so many Lincoln cent enthusiasts feel is a necessary addition for completing a comprehensive set inclusive of major varieties.
The PCGS Set Registry® accounts for the 1958 Doubled Die in the “Lincoln Cents with Major Varieties, Circulation Strikes (1909-1958)” set. To date, two sets, one owned by Stewart Blay and the other known as the ESM Collection, have included examples in their PCGS Registry Sets. Blay’s cabinet includes a PCGS MS65RD example while the ESM Collection claims a PCGS MS64RD. Both coins are six-figure rarities of a caliber unlike virtually any other in the Lincoln cent series.
Is there a fourth example of a 1958 Doubled Die Lincoln Cent floating around out there? Nobody can honestly claim there isn’t. Who’s to say there isn’t a 1958 Doubled Die Lincoln Cent waiting in the Take-A-Penny, Leave-A-Penny jar at the neighborhood café? Or perhaps one is lurking in an original, unsearched roll of 1958 pennies – there are still plenty of those out there. Maybe one will eventually turn up in a long-forgotten collection assembled during the mid-20th century. Indeed, the mystique behind the 1958 Doubled Die Lincoln Cent keeps numismatists intrigued, while the possibility that others may exist is just one more reason collectors keep checking their change.