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Differences Between 1981 Type 1 and Type 2 Proof Lincoln

By Joshua McMorrow-Hernandez - May 30, 2022

The 1981-S Type 2 Lincoln Cent, seen here, exhibits an S mint mark with bulbous serifs and is the scarcer of the two mint mark varieties for that year. Click image to enlarge.

Modern proof coins have thrown many intriguing curveballs toward collectors over the years, with some of the most confusing examples spinning out of the 1981 Proof Set issued by the United States Mint. The 1981 Proof Set marked the end of more than just the Susan B. Anthony Dollar, which launched in 1979 but went into an 18-year retirement at the close of 1981.

The 1981 Proof Set also saw the retirement of an “S” mint mark that was adopted two years earlier in 1979 and to replace the Filled S mint mark that was deemed too worn for further use at the San Francisco Mint. The 1979 Clear S mint mark went to work during the latter months of 1979, lasted throughout all of 1980, and survived into the first months of the 1981 proof coin production. It should be noted that the 1981-S mint marks are both technically of the “Clear” format, though each is distinct in its own way, as will be illustrated below. The 1981 S mint marks are denoted as “Type 1” and “Type 2.”

The 1979 Clear S mint mark is denoted by collectors as the Type 1 S mint mark on 1981 coinage and was replaced by the Type 2 S mint mark when dies were recut with the new S mint mark in late 1981. The differences between the Type 1 (left) and Type 2 (right) S mint marks can be seen below:

The 1981-S Type 1 mint mark on the left is less clearly defined and lacks sharp serifs. The 1981-S Type 2 mint mark on the right is not only more well clarified but is known for its bulbous serifs, which may be the easiest diagnostic to spot on this latter mint mark variation for 1981. Courtesy of PCGS TrueView.
Click images to enlarge.

The United States Mint produced 4,063,083 total proof sets in 1981 with no known records on how many were packaged using 1981-S Type 2 proof coins, which are seen across all six denominations made that year – one cent, nickel, dime, quarter, half dollar, and dollar. However, coin experts agree that somewhere between 10% and 20% of the 1981-S proof coinage exhibits the Type 2 S mint mark, making these Type 2 proofs decidedly scarcer than their Type 1 Filled S counterparts.

In the case of the 1981-S Type 2, prices are much higher for these as compared to the more common Type 1 S-mint proofs. In PCGS PR67, the 1981-S Type 2 Lincoln Cent fetches $45 versus just $6 for the Type I in the same grade. Elevated prices for the Type 2 proof are driven by huge demand for Lincoln Cents overall as well as the great many collectors who pursue complete sets of high-end Lincoln Cents on the PCGS Set Registry.

Article provided by PCGS at
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