In 1905 President Theodore Roosevelt began an ambitious program to redesign United States currency. Although various sculptors and their designs were carefully considered, it was ultimately Victor David Brenner (who was a student of Augustus Saint-Gaudens, the first artist consulted on the project) that received the final commission. After a lengthy debate about which coins would receive Brenner’s designs ,it was finally Roosevelt’s decision to place a bust of Abraham Lincoln onto the one cent piece. This was to honor the 100th anniversary of Lincoln’s birth. So it came to be that on August 2, 1909 the first Lincoln cents were released into circulation. Because of Lincoln’s popularity and memories of the Civil War still fresh in many American’s minds, the coins were extremely popular with the public. Some people opted to keep them rather than spend them. Although controversial at the time, the initials V.D.B. were struck on the reverse in order to honor the designer. While most of these coins were minted in Philadelphia, a smaller number were struck in San Francisco. For this reason the 1909-S VDB Lincoln cent has always been the key date coin in the entire Lincoln cent series, and it remains one of the most popular coins in numismatics. Since the 1909-S VDB Lincoln cent has always been highly desired among collectors, it is notorious for attracting counterfeiters. The most common way these coins have been counterfeited is via alteration. Usually a 1909 VDB cent is manipulated by fixing an “S” Mint Mark to it. Reportedly, “S” mint marks were manufactured on cookie sheets in the 1960’s and ’70’s and were readily available for purchase in vials. This practice was so popular that many fakes still exist from that time and have added to the lore, history, and popularity of the 1909-S VDB. As such, when examining the 1909-S VDB Lincoln cents, some of the diagnostics professional graders look for are in the area of the “S” mint mark.
Most prominently, the 1909-S VDB Lincoln cents were struck with four different obverse dies. The four known dies have four different mint mark positions and to the untrained eye, they can look very similar:
Also, genuine Mint Marks will display parallel serifs:
Another telltale sign is that authentic 1909-S VDB cents will have the VDB initials slightly slanted, specifically on the central crossbar of the letter “B.”:
Probably several tens of thousands of 1909-S V.D.B. cents exist today, including several thousand Mint State coins, the latter mostly MS-60 to 63 with some areas of toning. If you are considering obtaining one, take steps to assure that it is genuine.