Flying Lincoln Cent

by Bill Groom

Most coin collectors have seen a Flying Eagle Cent. But, who’s ever heard of a “flying” Lincoln Cent ? How else can one describe the astounding error coin that I was so fortunate to acquire at an Ohio coin show in 2001? It’s a multiple error coin that’s a double-denomination, flip-over, saddle-struck, double strike! There are two denominations, a cent and a nickel, struck on each, respective side of the cent’s planchet. PCGS labeled it a Lincoln Cent double-strike, 80% off-center with nickel dies. Other certification services would likely have described it differently. Could this then newly struck cent have somehow flown onto a nickel press?

This striking, or should I say doubly striking, error was initially coined as a 2000-D cent. It afterwards managed to receive a later, partial strike, having somehow landed between working nickel dies. I initially didn’t realize what I’d purchased when I bought the coin. The dealer from whom I made the purchase had a number of minor error coins in a box, and this major error coin was among them. What caught my eye with regard to this particular coin was that it was labeled as being a “flip-over double-strike” when I bought it.

As a longtime collector of Civil War tokens, I’d then never managed to find that elusive, flip-over error on a token; this, despite many years of searching. Consequently, the labeled Lincoln cent had curb appeal for me, so I opted to purchase it, along a with a number of other coins. It wasn’t until I got home the following day and carded it in a holder that I was then taken aback. The second strike illustrated the point of Jefferson’s bust, protruding from the reverse area of the cent. The obverse, saddle-strike area, below Lincoln’s bust, showed, “E PLURIBUS UNUM” in nickel-sized letters. Perhaps, “E DUO UNUM” or, out of two comes one, would be more apropos on this coin?

The surface area that was pushed-out as a result of the pressure of the nickel dies caused the copper-clad planchet to there become much thinner than the cent stock. As such, there was a tiered effect or step-down from the cent to nickel-struck area. Also, that nickel-struck area appeared somewhat proof-like in relation to the larger portion of the cent’s area. Then finding it difficult to believe what I was seeing, I repeatedly looked at the coin for a few days, letting reality sink in.

Prior to getting this anomaly authenticated, I periodically took it with me to coin shows for major, error dealers to see. I purposely carried it in a nondescript flip and asked, “Have you ever seen one of these?” Now, how many coin dealers have ever heard that question? The typical reply was something to the effect that the dealer had dozens of similar, off-center error cents for sale at $2 to $5, apiece; this being said while the coin was occasionally tossed back in my direction. I really enjoyed watching their faces after my insistence that they take a closer look. Before even talking to me about it, the standard query was, “Is it for sale?” All but one of the error dealers to whom I’ve shown it have said that it’s probably a unique specimen. The one exception was a dealer who expressed that she was aware of a dozen or so in existence. If that’s true, I have yet to see or hear of one; now seven years hence …

This is the sort of error coin that no one ever expects to see. It’s a pairing of two coins that shouldn’t exist on a single planchet. The dealer who sold it never saw it for what it really was, and the dealer who sold it never saw it for what it really was, and initially failed to see it for what it was. Thus, we joined the error specialists who failed to truly recognize it when they got their first look at it. It’s really a glaring error that one has to repeatedly view in order for the brain to process; this, like a UFO … a Flying Lincoln Cent!

One of the many questions that this anomaly has brought to my mind is: “How many error coins are out there that have the obverse of one denomination struck alongside of the reverse of another denomination, and vice-versa!?” I’ve personally seen many an overstrike of one denomination atop another, but never before a “companion” or side-by-side strike.

While I’ve never had occasion to visit the Denver Mint, I once toured the mint in Philadelphia. I went there about ten years ago with a close friend, Norm Bagaas, who had, himself, previously visited the Ottawa Mint. Norm told me that the Canadian mint facility was so clean that one could eat off the floor. As we stood behind the walkway glass, looking below at the coin presses, it was readily apparent that were anyone to eat from that floor, they would undoubtedly chew on some Philadelphia coins. The floor was literally littered with coins and/or planchets, throughout. We did see a woman pushing a broom though.

Following my visit to the Philadelphia Mint, I recall reading about efforts then being made to improve quality control. Perhaps, the state quarter program had something to do with that. I remember thinking that such an effort might ironically be an unwelcome development by collectors of error coins. Fortunately, for us collectors, some fantastic error coins, like those in the dollar series, have since continued to surface.

Regarding major errors, there’s always the question of whether or not such a coin was intentionally produced by some mint employee. The 1913 Liberty Head Nickels have to be the most notorious of all surreptitious coins to have ever left a mint facility. Evidence suggests that they were intentionally struck by a former mint employee, seeking to profit from their sale. While I personally lack sufficient knowledge to gauge the “err-ability” of the cent/dime (eleven-cent coin) and the quarter/dollar (buck-and-a-quarter coin) mules, I’m leaning toward the opinion that this cent/nickel (six-cent coin) is an unintentional mint product or genuine error.

My principal thought is that it’s unlikely that such a fantastic error would have found its way into my pocket at such a nominal cost unless it was an unintentional mint product. Another consideration is that this coin was among a large group of assorted, mostly minor, error coins when I bought it. Had this “six cent piece” been intentionally struck, a playful mint employee would likely have made the error more prominent or eye-catching by having the nickel struck portion be greater. Afterwards, a knowing seller would then more readily have called attention to it being a double-denomination error.

Specialists can better weigh the questions that this error poses, and more may yet be written. Perhaps, this article will stimulate some responses from specialists or amateur error collectors like myself. Is there somewhere a census of how many multi-denomination coins exist? Can there possibly be a single coin that’s been thrice-struck by different sets of dies? Is there a consensus among specialists about how these anomalies were produced? Questions abound.

As something of a postscript, I’ve subsequently managed to find that flip-over, double-strike Civil War token that eluded me for so many years. Like the “six-cent piece,” I didn’t spot it when I first bought it … honestly! I actually owned it for a year or two before I discovered what it was; this, just prior to almost parting with it, too! I’d virtually given up on ever finding one. It’s an Albany store card (Fuld # NY 10-D), being a timetable that has a wordy legend on both the obverse and reverse. Upon close examination, it’s apparent that this token was initially struck, then flipped-over and struck a second time by the same die pair. The understrike is clear enough to recognize under a glass. Unlike the “six cent piece” though, the over-strike is centered atop, not alongside, the original strike. In retrospect, it now occurs to me that, had I previously found that Civil War token error, I might well have not discovered the “Flying Lincoln Cent.” Ah, serendipity …

Given about fifty years of hunting, I never did snare a rare coin from circulation. However, discovering these major errors at shows has certainly made all the hunting worthwhile. Ironically, both of these truly rare pieces were purchased by me from dealers; and, before either they or I realized what they were. One lesson for all collectors who read this article is to spend time studying your own collection. Also, some of the best finds nowadays can be had at shows, flea markets and the like. Had I not joined the Civil War Token Society and invested in various numismatic publications, I’d likely never have found these items, much less have known that they even existed. All things considered though, my best “finds” have been friends made along collective pathways. Happy hunting to all!