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The Scarce 1970-S Small Date Lincoln Cent Varieties

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Lincoln Cent (Modern), 1970-S 1C Small Date, RD, PCGS MS67RD. Click image to enlarge.

The Lincoln Memorial Cent series, which ran from 1959 through 2008, spawned many varieties over the course of five decades, and one of the most valuable of these is the 1970-S Small Date. Struck at the San Francisco Mint in both business-strike and proof finishes, the 1970-S Small Date is a relatively scarce variety and one of the most collectible of all Lincoln Memorial Cents.

Collectors have been looking for the coin in circulation for decades, with many of the most ardent of roll searchers and pocket change pluckers finding occasional business strikes here and there. The 1970-S Small Date is a worthwhile find, as even circulated specimens are worth many times their face value. Uncirculated and proofs are worth significantly more, some trading for three figures or more in the best grades.

The 1970-S Large Date Vs. Small Date

Telling a 1970-S Small Date Lincoln Cent apart from a 1970-S Large Date is a matter of looking at both the date and the inscription “LIBERTY” on the obverse. The diagnostics listed below apply to both the business-strike and proof versions of the 1970-S Lincoln Cents.

The 1970-S Small Date is also known as the so-called “High 7” variety, as the top of the digit “7” in the date perfectly lines up with tops of the other three numerals in the date. Thus, the tops of all four date digits should all align with an imaginary plane atop of the date. Meanwhile, the 1970-S Large Date, otherwise known as the “Low 7,” depicts the top of the “7” sitting lower than the tops of the other digits.

However, the date isn’t the sole diagnostic that one can use to attribute a 1970-S Small Date. On the valuable variety, the inscription “LIBERTY” appears weak and strong on the large date version.

Lincoln Cent (Modern), 1970-S 1C Small Date, RD, DATE COMPARISON. Click image to enlarge.

Collecting The 1970-S Small Date

While there are no known records offering the numismatic community hard numbers on the exact number of 1970-S Small Date Lincoln Cents for either the business-strike or proof format, estimates point to their representing approximately 10% to 15% of the total issue mintage, if not less. With a total mintage of 690,560,004 for the 1970-S business strikes and 2,632,810 for the 1970-S proofs.

This suggests that perhaps 60 million to 70 million business-strike examples of the 1970-S Small Date may have been released while approximately 250,000 to 300,000 of the 1970-S Proofs are of the small date variety. Of course, not all these coins have survived decades of circulation and other common forms of numismatic attrition, leaving still significant but decidedly smaller quantities for collectors today.

The two major varieties of the 1970-S Lincoln Cent are distinct enough that both the large date and small date pieces are collected by most of the dedicated Lincoln series enthusiasts. The 1970-S Small Date is also included in virtually all PCGS Registry Sets involving series runs of the Lincoln Memorial Cent. Thus, collectors have many options for incorporating this variety into their holdings.

Lincoln Cent (Modern), 1970-S 1C Small Date, DCAM, PCGS PR68DCAM. Click image to enlarge.

The 1970-S Lincoln Cent in the Marketplace

According to PCGS CoinFacts, typical examples of the 1970-S Large Date Lincoln Cent trade for less than $15, regardless of if it’s an uncirculated or proof specimen or bears a Brown (BN), Red-Brown (RB), or Red (RD) designation on its encapsulation label. By comparison, the 1970-S Small Date is a much more valuable coin, with PCGS MS65RD specimens setting collectors back by $80 and PCGS PR65CAM examples trading for $75.

Many of the more competitive PCGS Set Registry members will set their sights on the top pop specimens. A PCGS MS66RD generally takes $160 and pieces grading PCGS MS67RD trend for $600. Meanwhile, the PCGS PR67DCAM trades for $250 and a PCGS PR68DCAM takes $450. The all-time record price for the 1970-S Small Date in uncirculated condition went to a PCGS MS67RD commanding $2,464 in a 2008 online auction, while the most valuable proof specimen was a PCGS PR69DCAM that fetched $18,400 in a 2005 sale.

Lincoln Cents (1909-to Date)