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Looking for Those Lincoln Memorial Cent Small Dates

By Joshua McMorrow-Hernandez - Jun 2, 2023

Lincoln Memorial Cent Small Dates, such as this one from 1960, are among several major varieties popularly collected by series enthusiasts.

There are so many reasons people love the Lincoln Memorial Cent, a subtype that ran from 1959 through 2008 and married the vintage 1909 Abraham Lincoln obverse by Victor David Brenner and Lincoln Memorial reverse motif of Frank Gasparro. The Lincoln Memorial Cent is an approachable series, which is appealing to the droves of collectors who still pluck these pennies from circulation today…

But this is no simple series to collect!

Ask any PCGS Registry Set member building a competitive run of Lincoln Memorial Cents – these coins can be tough and expensive to find in the top grades. They can be especially difficult when chasing after the many varieties this series presents collectors. Among the plethora of Lincoln Memorial Cent curiosities are the small dates, which for this series are generally classifiable as scarce.

The Lincoln Memorial Small Date Cents are counted among the major varieties included among the PCGS Registry Sets that encompass the Lincoln Memorial series and include the following:

  • 1960 Small Date
  • 1960 Small Date Proof
  • 1960 Large/Small Date Proof
  • 1960 Small/Large Date Proof
  • 1960-D Small Date
  • 1960-D/D Small/Large Date
  • 1970-S Small Date
  • 1970-S Small Date Proof
  • 1982 Bronze Small Date
  • 1982 Zinc Small Date
  • 1982-D Zinc Small Date

With at least 11 different major varieties involving small dates, the Lincoln Memorial Cent series keeps enthusiasts busy tracking down just the right coins to polish their PCGS Registry Sets.

The 1960 Small Dates

Interestingly, more than half of this list of coins involves pieces struck in 1960, a time when the transitioning of date formats stirred even the non-numismatic public to keep a closer eye on their pennies. At the time, bags of 1960 Small Date Lincoln Cents (Philadelphia and Denver) were trading at around $10,000 for a bag of 5,000 coins, or $2 per coin.

A comparison of the 1960 small date and large date arrangements. Courtesy of PCGS TrueView.
A closeup of the 1960 Large Date / Small Date on the left and the 1960 Small / Large Date on the right. Courtesy of PCGS TrueView. Click images to enlarge.

The 1960 Small Date and Large Dates are easily differentiated by the unaided eye, with the “0” of the last digit in the date for the small date appearing smaller than that of the large date, with the interior of the small “0” looking more like an oval. Meanwhile, the top of the “9” digit is nearly inline with the top of the first digit, “1.”

Some very interesting error varieties from this date also reveal the overlapping of the small date over the large date (business strike and proof) and the large date over the small (proof only).

The 1970 Small Dates

The 1970 Small Date Lincoln Cent is a widely popular variety, and it’s often collected alongside its large date counterpart. There are two elements the collector should keep an eye on when looking for the 1970-S Small Date: the positioning of the date numerals and the visual strength of the inscription “LIBERTY.”

A comparison of the 1970 Small Date versus 1970 Large Date Lincoln Cents. Courtesy of PCGS TrueView.

The easiest diagnostic is by looking at where the top of the “7” appears among the tops of the other three digits; one needs to draw an imaginary line across the tops of the “1,” “9,” and “0” and another across the bottoms of the “1” and “0.” If the top of the “7” is below that upper line, it’s a large date; if the top of the “7” touches that line across the top and does not extend below the bottom line, it’s a small date.

The “LIBERTY” inscription is another key diagnostic. On the small date, it is weak, whereas the inscription is strong on the large date.

This small date variety is seen among both the business strikes and proofs.

The 1982 Small Dates

There are three regular-issue small dates among the 1982 Lincoln Cents, including the 1982 Bronze Small Date as well as 1982 and 1982-D Zinc Small Date. The key in telling the bronze and zinc cents apart? Weigh them. The 1982 bronze cents weigh about 3.11 grams apiece, whereas the zinc cents register at the much lighter weight of 2.5 grams.

A comparison of the 1982 Small Date versus 1982 Large Date Lincoln Cents. Courtesy of PCGS TrueView.

The 1982 small date can be distinguished from the large date by looking at the size and positioning of the date numerals as well as the shape of the “2” at the end of the date. On the large date, the tops of the middle numerals exceed the tops of the “1,”and “2,” with the “2” showing a straight descender. On the small date, the tops of the date numerals are all set along an imaginary line, with the descender in the “2” showing a slight arch bowing up and to the left.

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