The 1955 doubled die Lincoln penny is one of the most popular errors coins produced by the United States Mint. The doubling is dramatic and can be plainly seen without the use of magnification. It is most prevalent on the date, the motto "LIBERTY" and "IN GOD WE TRUST." The reverse of the coin was properly made and does not exhibit any doubling.
How Did It Happen?
In 1955 a die maker at the United States Mint facility in Philadelphia made an error while manufacturing a working coin die for a Lincoln cent.
In order to achieve a quality die, several impressions must be made using a coin hub. In between impressions, the working die is softened through a heating and cooling process before the next impression is made. When the craftsmen at the United States Mint was aligning the hub and the coin die to receive the final impression, the hub and the die were not properly aligned (slightly rotated). This resulted in the lettering and the date being doubled but Lincoln's portrait not being affected.
Not noticing that the obverse die was improperly made, it was loaded into a coining press and used to produce Lincoln cents. Standard procedure at the mint requires spot inspection of coins being ejected from the coining press to ensure they meet the quality standards before being released to the shipping department. It is believed that these coins were produced on an overnight shift and quality standards were not properly followed.
1955 Doubled Die Lincoln Cents Released into Circulation
By the time the doubled die error was noticed by mint employees, several thousand of the coins were already mixed with properly produced 1955 Lincoln pennies. According to Walter Breen, Sidney C. Engle in the coining room estimated that between 20,000 and 24,000 doubled die obverse Lincoln cents were already mixed into a batch of almost 10 million cents.
He made the decision that it would not be economically feasible to melt the entire batch of 10 million coins because a relatively small number of them contained a mint error.
In the following months, 1955 doubled die Lincoln pennies begin to turn up in circulation. They were mostly found around the Boston area, Western Massachusetts and parts of upstate New York. A majority of them were found in cigarette packs as change. In the mid-1950s vending machines were not equipped to give change as they are today. A pack of cigarettes sold for twenty-three cents and the vending machine only accepted quarters. In order to return change to the customer two Lincoln pennies were slipped inside the cellophane packaging of the cigarette pack to serve as change to the customer.
Since the 1955 doubled die Lincoln penny was discovered in the same year of its production, many examples were found by collectors and preserved before they circulated. Ameil Druila and W. S. Meadows published the first article in the Numismatic Scrapbook Magazine in January 1956. This set off a collecting frenzy for people to find additional examples in circulation.
From the original estimate of 20,000 to 24,000 coins released into circulation it is believed that many of them got lost in circulation and only 10,000 to 15,000 coins survive today.
It is occasionally reported that somebody finds a 1955 doubled die Lincoln penny while searching a roll of wheat pennies.
Value of a 1955 Doubled Die Lincoln Penny
The Lincoln penny is one of the most popular series of United States coins to collect. Due to the popularity of this coin with coin collectors, demand is very high. As previously stated, the supply is extremely low compared to the number of collectors who would like to own one. Therefore, this coin is valuable in all grades.
The following table lists the buy price (what you can expect to pay to a dealer to purchase the coin) and sell value (what you can expect a dealer to pay you if you sell the coin). The first set of columns lists the buy price and the sell value for an average circulated coin. The next two columns list the buy price and the sell value for an average uncirculated coin.
These are approximate retail prices and wholesale values. The actual offer you receive from a particular coin dealer will vary depending on the actual grade of the coin and a number of other factors that determine its worth.
Average Buy and Sell Price
Date & Mint
1955 Double Die
The finest known examples have been graded MS-65 Red by PCGS (19 coins) and MS-66 Red by NGC (1 coin). Recent auction results show that a PCGS MS-65 Red example sold for $37,600 in January 2016 at a Heritage auction. A NGC MS-66 Red example sold for over $50,000 in an August 2006 auction hosted by Superior Galleries. I am sure this coin would sell for well over $80,000 if offered at auction today.
Since this error coin was discovered shortly after it was released in the circulation, many coins were saved before they extremely worn. The most common grade they you will encounter is extremely fine (XF-40). These specimens are usually brown in color and have a fairly nice surface preservation. Over the last 10 years the price has increased from about $950 in 2007 to about $1,800 in 2017. This is an approximate 9% annual increase in price. An average uncirculated example (MS-63) had an average retail price of $2,750 in 2007 and $3100 in 2017. This is an average annual increase in price of 1.2% annually.
Beware of Counterfeit's
Finally, due to the popularity and extremely high price of this coin it has commanded the attention of counterfeiters. There are many deceiving die struck counterfeits on the market. Authentication from a third party grading service such as PCGS or NGC is strongly recommended. Additionally, there are some 1955 doubled die pennies that have microscopic doubling that is only visible with magnification. These are known as "Poor Man Doubled Dies" and carry very little additional value over the non-doubled die coin.
The Bottom Line
Although this is one of the most popular doubled die coins to collect, I recommend that beginning collectors work on assembling a set of Lincoln Wheat pennies in order to familiarize yourself with the coin series before purchasing the 1955 doubled die Lincoln cent.