The 1955 doubled die Lincoln penny is one of the most famous error coins produced by the United States Mint. The doubling on the obverse is dramatic and can be seen without magnification. It is most prevalent on the date, the motto "LIBERTY" and "IN GOD WE TRUST." The coin's reverse was made correctly and does not exhibit any doubling.
If you think you may have found one of these coins, look at it carefully. Remember, this is not a "double-struck" coin. Instead, notice that the raised detail of the coin is doubled. When a coin is double struck, the second strike will flatten the detail from the first strike.
How Did It Happen?
In 1955 a die maker at the United States Mint facility in Philadelphia made a mistake while manufacturing a working coin die for the Lincoln cent. Several impressions into the coin die must be made using a coin hub to achieve a high-quality die. Then, the working die is softened between impressions through a heating and cooling process before the next impression is made.
When the United States Mint craftsman aligned the coin hub upon the coin die to receive the final impression, the hub, and the die were not correctly aligned (slightly rotated). This manufacturing mistake resulted in the lettering and the date being doubled. However, because of the high relief of Lincoln's portrait, it was not affected.
The die setters at the mint did not notice that the obverse die was improperly made. As a result, the mint employees loaded the defective coin die into a coining press and used it to produce Lincoln cents. Standard quality control procedures at the mint required spot inspection of coins being ejected from the coining press to ensure they meet the quality standards before being released to the shipping department.
These coins were believed to be produced on an overnight shift where supervision was lacking, and quality standards were not adequately followed. In addition, many coin presses run continuously without direct human supervision. Therefore, the press continued to manufacture error coins at almost 200 per minute.
1955 Doubled Die Lincoln Cents Released into Circulation
When mint employees noticed the doubled die error, several thousand coins were 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 decided 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 began 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. To return the change to the customer, two Lincoln pennies were slipped inside the cellophane packaging of the cigarette pack to serve as the change to the customer.
Since the 1955 doubled die Lincoln penny was discovered in the same year of its production, coin collectors found many examples and preserved them 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, experts believe many of them got lost in circulation, and only 10,000 to 15,000 coins survive today. But, occasionally, 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. However, as previously stated, the supply is meager compared to the number of collectors who want to own one. Therefore, this coin is valuable in all grades.
The following table lists the buy price (what you can expect to pay a dealer to purchase the coin) and sell value (what you 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 following two columns list the buy price and the sell value for an average uncirculated coin. These are approximate retail prices and wholesale values. Of course, the offer you receive from a particular coin dealer will vary depending on the actual grade of the coin and several other factors that determine its worth.
Average Buy and Sell Price
|Date & Mint||Circ. Buy||Circ. Sell||Unc. Buy||Unc. Sell|
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. An 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 into circulation, many coins were saved before they became extremely worn. The most common grade you will encounter is extremely fine (XF-40). These specimens are usually brown and have reasonably excellent surface preservation. Over the last ten years, the price has increased from about $950 in 2007 to about $1,150 in 2019. This is an approximate 2% annual increase in price. An average uncirculated example (MS-63) had an average retail price of $2,750 in 2007 and $3,000 in 2019. This is an average annual increase in the price of 1.1% 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. These die struck counterfeit coins are extremely difficult to detect as counterfeits. Therefore, 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. If you do decide to purchase one coin, it is best to purchase a certified specimen from third-party grading service. Given the current value of this coin, it will be money well spent.