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What is a Red Copper Coin?

By Joshua McMorrow-Hernandez - September 29, 2022

A Red 1909-S VDB Lincoln Cent. Courtesy of PCGS TrueView. Click image to enlarge.

We receive a lot of questions about what constitutes a so-called Red copper coin. For many, Red is the most desirable coloration on a copper coin, yet it’s also among the scarcest, particularly when considering vintage copper coins. After all, copper is one of the most volatile metals commonly used for striking coins. Copper oxidizes in even the most seemingly benign of environments, with humidity, sulfurous air, and saliva liable to cause spotting, overall discoloration, and corrosion on a copper coin.

Red refers to the hue of fresh copper, as it would appear just after the coin is struck. Because of copper’s propensity to darken over the years, only very small fractions of old copper coins are found with coloration that would numismatically be deemed Red.

According to PCGS grading guidelines, the following defines the Red designation for a copper coin:

  • PCGS designated Red (RD) for copper coins that grade MS60 or better and show 95% or more of their original mint-red color.

Trying to distinguish between a coin that’s, say, 93% or 94% versus meeting the minimum threshold of 95% Red can cause a great deal of confusion and frustration for the collector. In fact, making that call between a copper that is Red versus one that is Red-Brown, or determining that a coin is just on the cusp of being Red, is one of the most difficult elements of grading copper coins.

That’s one reason so many collectors submit their copper coins to PCGS – because PCGS experts know the distinction between a coin that’s Red-Brown (RB) and Red (RD) and can consistently ascribe the correct color designation to a copper coin. Not only does this take all the guesswork out of the equation for the collector, but it also instills more confidence in the collector – or a potential buyer – that the coin is legitimately a “Red.”

As any connoisseur of copper coins knows, the difference between a Red and Red-Brown isn’t just measured in the percentage of Red on the surface. It’s also a difference often distinguished by hundreds or even thousands of dollars. That’s just one of many reasons why it pays to know whether you really have an RB or Red!

Article provided by PCGS at
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