It’s by no means the scarcest or most expensive of all U.S. coins, but the storied 1909-S V.D.B. Lincoln Cent may very well be the most famous. The coin is ubiquitous among collectors, but it’s also well-known outside of numismatic circles too. Many Americans either fantasized of stumbling upon one in everyday pocket change – or buying one to complete their Wheat Penny collections.
The letters V.D.B. are short for Victor David Brenner, who engraved and designed the Lincoln Cent. Prior to 1909, all U.S. coins typically featured symbolic images of Liberty, Native Americans or even bald eagles. The tradition of displaying Presidents or other famous Americans (like Susan B. Anthony or Benjamin Franklin) had not yet begun. After 50 years of continuous use, the venerable Indian Head Cent was replaced by the new Lincoln Cent.
Victor David Brenner’s motif was praised for its aesthetic quality, but many Americans objected to the placement of his initials on the reverse. At the bottom of the reverse, the letters “V.D.B.” were engraved in small but noticeable type. The general public complained that Brenner, who was paid for his artistic work, needed no further mention or recognition.
The reaction was quite unusual, especially given that James B. Longacre’s initials were displayed on millions of gold coins for decades (as were Augustus St. Gaudens’ on the $20 Double Eagle of 1907-1933). However, most people probably did not realize this fact. The penny was the most commonly encountered of all U.S. coins – whereas very few Americans handled gold coins on a day-to-day basis.
The government caved to public outcry and, in the middle of 1909, the initials V.D.B. were removed from the Lincoln Cent. By then the Philadelphia Mint had struck 27,995,000 cents with the V.D.B. initials, but the San Francisco Mint had released just 484,000. This may sound like a sizeable number, but it is actually the lowest mintage in the entire series. Other than the 1931 San Francisco issue, the 1909-S V.D.B. is the only Lincoln Cent with a mintage of 1,000,000 pieces.
Since then, countless Americans have scoured through pocket change and hoards of Wheat Cents looking for the rare 1909-S V.D.B. penny. In addition, many collectors got their start in numismatics filling in cardboard Lincoln Cent albums. Being the rarest and most valuable issue in the set, the 1909-S V.D.B. was often the final piece needed to complete the Lincoln Cent collection. This is what makes the coin so popular and nostalgic among collectors.