100 Greatest U.S. Modern Coins Series: 1990, No S, Lincoln Cent, Proof

The Lincoln cent is one of the most struck denominations to have ever come from the United States Mint. That said, when one is deemed highly coveted and rare, it tends to be for a considerable reason. That is certainly the case with this next coin we will be covering from Whitman Publishing’s 100 Greatest United States Modern Coins blog series. With help from authors Jeff Garrett and Scott Schechter, we will take a closer look at this top ten pick that happens to be missing a particularly important design feature.

#9 – 1990, No S, Lincoln Cent, Proof

The omission of a mint mark has happened before. However, this 1990-dated Lincoln cent is significant because it was the last time such an occurrence happened on a Proof coin. The 1990, No S, Lincoln cent is a Proof struck at San Francisco and is the only Lincoln cent missing its mint mark. The coin is exceedingly rare, making it extremely expensive and out of reach for collectors of the Proof Lincoln Memorial cents.

The Lincoln cents were issued in the Proof sets and Prestige Proof sets. In 1990, a Proof die struck around 3,700 cents, which is the approximate mintage for the 1990, No S, Lincoln cent. The coin was found not long after the Proof sets were released as the United States Mint confirmed the mistake and said they had retrieved and did away with 145 of those examples. Due to this, the reported mintage of this Proof Lincoln cent is recorded at 3,555. In total, there were around 2.8 million Proof sets issued in 1990. However, the total number of Proof cents without the mint mark that have been recovered has been less than one tenth of the number of sets issued. Such a low rate has made collectors question if there are fewer than the actual 3,555 reported mintage.

One of the biggest questions to come from this error was how did it manage to happen? The preparation of a Proof die requires a number of steps all done by hand, meaning that there were numerous Mint employees who handled the die and inspected it. How did they all miss the fact that the mint mark was not there? One theory suggested that before 1985, individual dies featured mint marks that were put there by hand, making room for human error. Is this what happened? It is also made clear by the authors that “Lincoln cent dies without mint marks in 1990 would have all been clearly intended for the production of circulating coinage.” When it comes to the 1990, No S, Lincoln cent, the die intended to strike the circulating coins was instead treated and used to strike Proof coins at San Francisco.

In the first edition of this publication, this coin was #13. It has moved up four spots for this fourth edition (#9).