Man Finds $126,500 Penny in Fifty-Cent Roll of Coins

Rare 1969-S Doubled Die Lincoln Cent Found Roll Searching

1969-S Doubled Die Lincoln Penny
1969-S Doubled Die Lincoln Cent. Heritage Auction Galleries

Searching pocket change for error coins can be fun and profitable, but searching through rolls of uncirculated coins can sometimes turn up real treasure! Variety coin expert Ken Potter reports that a Michigan collector, Michael Tremonti, found an uncirculated 1969-S doubled die penny while searching through a 50-coin roll of 1969-S Lincoln cents.

Tremonti sent the coin to PCGS for grading and encapsulation. At the time, Potter estimated that a Mint State 1969-S doubled die obverse is worth at least $44,000 and maybe as much as $100,000 or more depending on the grade it gets. Experts estimate that the number of known specimens of this 1969-S doubled die penny is only about 40 to 50 coins.

Die Variety Expert Ken Potter Authenticates the Coin

Potter was so excited about this find that he sent out a news release about it, in which he related how he learned of this amazing find. Potter also says that when Tremonti first called him, he was very skeptical. "I was unaware of Tremonti's level of expertise, so I just assumed the find was one of the exceedingly common examples of strike doubling encountered on this date.

"This variety along with the 1968-S and 1970-S cents is one of the most notorious for this form of doubling damage occurring on Lincoln cents. I advised him of this, but he shrugged it off as not being what he found. As I talked to him further, he seemed to be knowledgeable on the subject. It seemed that for once there was a possibility that one of the folks making the common claim of finding a 1969-S doubled die cent might have done so. To my surprise, the coin turned out to be a beautiful, brilliant uncirculated example of this rare variety."

History of the 1969-S DDO Lincoln Cent

The 1969-S doubled die cent has a notorious history. Around the time of its discovery in 1970, a pair of scammers had tried to cash in by making counterfeit 1969 doubled die cents. According to Potter, it was just a bizarre coincidence that forgers happened to be making fake 1969 pennies at the same time that a major genuine Mint error emerged from the same date!

The coins were first discovered by Ceil Moorhouse and Bill Hudson as reported by a Coin World article (July 8, 1970, pg. 1). Moorhouse's coin came from a lot of five rolls that he received from the San Francisco Federal Reserve Bank via The Bank Of America. Secret service agents immediately seized it believing that it was one of the counterfeit coins. The coin was later returned to him as genuine.

The U.S. Secret Service began confiscating all specimens under the currency counterfeiting laws, including the genuine 1969-S specimens, perhaps not comprehending the significance of the "S" mint mark. It took the U.S. Treasury Department some time to sort the mess out and return the genuine specimens to their owners. Unfortunately, the U.S. Treasury Department reportedly destroyed a few genuine 1969-S pennies as counterfeits.

As often happens when a certain coin gets a lot of press coverage, the demand intensifies, and the coin rises in value. To this day, the major 1969-S doubled die obverse cent drives higher prices at auction than its contemporaries which display comparable doubling, such as the major 1972 doubled die obverse cent although the 1969-S is believed to be quite a bit rarer.

What Tremonti's find makes clear to all of us is that there are still lots of very valuable error and variety coins waiting to be found, whether you are checking your pocket change or searching through rolls of original bank wrapped coins. As I like to put it, "Are you sure you didn't spend a $30,000 penny for your lunch yesterday?"

Update: PCGS ultimately graded the 1969-S penny discussed here as Red MS-64. This coin is tied with one other specimen for the finest known specimen. It sold at a Heritage auction for $126,500 on January 10, 2008!

1969-S Doubled Die Obverse Lincoln Cent Graded PCGS MS-Sixty-Four RD
 Heritage Auctions, HA.com

Note: This version corrects some facts from an earlier version, the corrections for which I would like to thank Ken Potter. Potter provided further information about the source of the lucky roll of coins, too, and it seems Tremonti doesn't recall when or where he bought the roll. Tremonti is a regular cherrypicker who often buys rolls at coin shows so he can search them for die varieties. For additional information about this coin, please read Potter's original 1969-S penny news release.

Edited by: James Bucki