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Controversial 1959-D Lincoln Cent with Wheat Ears Reverse to be Sold at Goldbergs Pre Long Beach Coin Auction

This coin has created quite a bit of controversy in the past, and it’s time the allegations and innuendo get laid to rest. For some reason, the few independent grading services who have examined this coin can’t seem to decide on its genuine status, although no one can define any reason to consider it counterfeit, they also won’t render an opinion to support the coin as a genuine mint product. Hence, the opinions of most remain that no decision can be made on the coin unless further tests are conducted.

The known history of this unique cent begins in 1986. A retired police officer named Leon Baller advertised in his local Walnut Creek, California newspaper that he would purchase rare and unusual coins. A local coin collector saw the ad and contacted Baller about an unusual 1959-D wheat reverse cent that he had found, and Baller soon arranged to meet with him and then purchased the coin for $1,500. Baller sent the coin to the United States Department of the Treasury for authentication in early 1987. Jim Brown, a forensic lab authenticator for the Department of the Treasury examined the coin and found no indication that it was counterfeit. The coin was returned to Baller on February 7, 1986 with a letter signed by Richard M. McDrew, Special Agent for the Department of the Treasury.

The letter states as follows:

“Enclosed is your United States 1ยข coin, dated 1959-D, with wheat reverse. This coin was microscopically examined by our Forensic Services Division in Washington, D.C. and it is their opinion the coin is genuine.”

Baller eventually sold the coin to Heritage Rare Coin Galleries in 1987. The cent was then sold to a private collector where it remained until recently.

The current owner of the coin is a business syndicate whose members’ names have not been disclosed, and their representative is Larry Choate, a Southern California collector. Choate took the bold move in 2002 to resubmit the coin to the Department of the Treasury and Secret Service for a more comprehensive review of the 1959-D wheat cents authenticity. Choate realized that if the coin was considered a counterfeit, it would be seized and destroyed. In addition, Choate took the risk that the coin was produced at the Denver Mint but illegally spirited out, and could be seized on those grounds as well.

Frankly, the Department of the Treasury has a checkered list of such seizures, and only a few coins have been seized over the years. It is important to note here that this coin will not be confiscated as the Treasury Department has returned the coin twice to the owner after reviewing the coin and returning it as genuine. It is also considered legal tender by the Treasury Department.

The most recent and very public seizure was the 1933 double eagle which the Government seized and wanted to destroy in a mindless bureaucratic fashion. Mercifully for collectors, the original owner of the 1933 double eagle was Egypt’s King Farouk, and he obtained an export license which allowed him to take the coin with him out of this country to Egypt.

After protracted litigation, the government and owner of the coin, British dealer Steve Fenton, agreed to have the coin sold and the proceeds would be divided. Thus, the Farouk 1933 double eagle would be the only currently “legal” specimen that could be obtained.

Rumors have long swirled that other 1933 double eagles exist in private collections, but the Government claims title to any that may be in private hands and they would be seized if found as Government officials have publicly stated. This unique rarity just sold for $7,590,020. at auction in July 2002.

In recent years a bonanza of mint “errors” have turned up in collectors hands. Some of these have included error commemorative gold coins which were so mistruck as to not fit into the government holders. Another example would be the recently released Sacagawea/Quarter mules, or even the 1964 Peace silver dollar. Rumors persist, and in some cases these coins would be seized if they appeared at public auction. Normally, years after the original production, the probability of seizure seems to drop, and the seizure cases normally involve coins that were illegally removed from the mint where the perpetrators can be rounded up and jailed after due process, as the coins were simply not just normal production errors which escaped into circulation.
These distinctions are important, because if a coin is seized, it is seldom returned and any value paid for the coin would be lost. Under such circumstances, the Government goes after the mint employees involved, and many have been arrested and prosecuted for these crimes.

Getting back to our 1959-D cent, Choate knew that he was taking a big risk by submitting this coin back to the United States Secret Service, as it could be seized if it was determined to be a counterfeit, or illegally taken from the Denver Mint. However, after extensive examination by the United States Secret Service Office of Investigations Counterfeit Division a report was issued dated May 17, 2002, under their case number Log: 119-726-FY2002-018.
This report, which of course accompanies this lot, states as follows:

“Exhibit Examined Q1 One 1959-D Lincoln cent, bearing the wheat reverse, described on the subject letter.”

“Background: From 1909 until 1958, the United States Mint cent bore a portrait of President Lincoln on the obverse and two curved stylized heads of wheat on reverse. In 1959, the design was changed to bear the Lincoln Memorial on the reverse.”

“Results of Examination Physical and microscopic examinations were conducted on the submitted Lincoln cent (Exhibit Q1; see figure 1). [photo of obverse and reverse].

“Optical and scanning electron microscopic examinations conducted on the submitted coin (Exhibit Q1) revealed that the coin’s obverse does not exhibit any indications of alterations to the date or surrounding field (see figure 2). [two scanning electron micrographs of the final 9 of the date are included, the first is enlarged 180 times, the next is enlarged 200 times].

Below these photos the report continues: “Enlargements show no indications of alterations–metal shows smooth transition from numbers to the field. An alteration at these magnifications would be evident by tool mark striations or seams with solder or glue. Alteration from within the coin (embossing) would result in less defined numerals and disturbances on the surface of the numerals.”

The report goes on:

“Further, the edge and rim of the submitted coin (Exhibit Q1) was examined for evidence of seams or alterations that would suggest that the submitted coin was a composite of a 1959-D obverse with a separate wheat reverse (see figure 3).” “Figure 3: Micrographs of the rims of the submitted coin (Exhibit Q1)” show the obverse rim near the W of WE, and the reverse rim near a wheat ear and are magnified 60 times. Below the micrographs the Report states: “Enlargements show no indications of alterations or seams. The metal shows smooth transition from the field to the rim and then to the edge. An alteration at these magnifications would be evident by tool mark striations or seams with solder or glue.”

“No evidence of manipulation or alteration to the edge of the submitted coin (Exhibit Q1) was observed (see figure 4).” “Figure 4: Optical micrograph of the edge of the submitted coin (Exhibit Q1)” which shows the edge of the coin and concludes: “Enlargements show no indications of alterations or seams in the edge. The metal appears undisturbed, as does the oxidation (toning). An alteration at these magnifications would be evident by tool mark striations or seams with solder or glue.”

The Report next examines the die polish lines as follows: “The submitted Lincoln/wheat cent (Exhibit Q1) displays prominent die polish (raised striations in the field, but absent in the raised devices) on the obverse and reverse (see figures 5 through 7). During the course of examination, the subject coin was compared to one 1959 cent and two 1959-D cents that had similar die polish on the obverse. No significant differences in the appearance of the polish were observed.” Two greatly enlarged micrographs of the field and ERTY follow: “Figure 5: Optical micrograph of the die polish on Exhibit Q1 and Figure 6: Optical micrograph of the die polish on Exhibit Q1.”

Figure 7: Optical micrograph of die polish on the reverse of submitted coin (Exhibit Q1)” with a very large micrograph of the central reverse which shows die polish lines in the field.

The Report continues: “Nondestructive physical examinations conducted on the submitted coin (Exhibit Q1) revealed that the coin is consistent in mass, diameter, and thickness of genuine 1958/1959 cent coins. Additionally, surface measurements by energy dispersive x-ray spectroscopy revealed that the coin is consistent in elemental composition with genuine 1958/1959 cent coins (see table 1).

“Table 1: Composition, diameter, thickness, and Mass of Exhibit Q1
Exhibit Cu(%) Zn & Sn (%) Diameter (mm) Thickness (mm) Mass (g)
Genuine* 95.0 5.0 19.05 1.58 3.11
Q1 ~95 – 97 ~3 – 5 19.1 – 19.2 1.5 – 1.6 3.09
*The numbers presented in this row are the Mint specifications for genuine 1947-1962.

Given this evidence, the Report goes on:


“Although the submitted 1959-D Lincoln Cent (Exhibit Q1) exhibits the wheat reverse, instead of the Mint specified memorial reverse, the submitted coin exhibits physical characteristics, such as device detail, metal flow, die polish, thickness, diameter, mass and composition, consistent with genuine 1958/59 Lincoln cents. Further, the submitted Lincoln/wheat cent does not exhibit any indications of alterations to the date or evidence of edge alteration, indicating that the submitted coin was a result of combining two genuine coins. Additionally, no characteristics associated with counterfeit coins, such as tool marks, file marks, raised metal or unusual oxidation (“toning”) were observed.”

“In the absence of any evidence that the submitted 1959-D Lincoln/wheat cent (Exhibit Q1) is not consistent with having been manufactured by the US Mint, the coin was determined to be a genuine mule cent.”

The page continues with remarks which discuss the way the coin was handled, and the fact that it was returned to the owner, and the Report was signed by Marc J. Surrency, Counterfeit Specialist and Approved by Anthony M. Chapa, Special Agent in Charge.

In another specialized reference work, The Authoritative Reference on Lincoln Cents by John Wexler and Kevin Flynn, the authors devote 3 pages to this coin. They note that in 1993 this coin was submitted to the ANA for authentication. Michael Fahey, the examiner at the ANA “could find no evidence of it being counterfeit. However, because there was no evidence the Mint could have produced it and it is hard to conceive how this could happen accidently. Since only one specimen has ever been found, the ANA returned the coin with a “no decision”. J.P. Martin, chief authenticator for the ANA, said that when he examined the coin he could not find any evidence that the coin is counterfeit, but also stated that his gut instinct is that the coin is not genuine.” J.P. Martin followed up with a letter which is quoted at in full in the Wexler Flynn reference, and we quote the relevant portion here “All in all, the attention given to the die as shown by the die polish is the most bothersome. I challenge any readers to match the shown die polish to the 1959-D obverse or the wheat reverse. Though this piece appears to be suspicious, no absolute technical condemnation can be made. Especially without a comparison example from the same dies. For this reason, the coin was given a “No Decision” by American Numismatic Association Authentication Bureau. This was circa 1993. Since that time, J. P. Martin has left the ANA to be one of the founding partners of the ICG grading service.

J.P. Martin here touches on what will likely resolve the questions swirling about this controversial coin. In 2002 when Larry Goldberg discussed the coin with Rick Montgomery, he said that if other Lincoln cents of the 1958-D reverse and 1959-D obverse dies were submitted, there is a better chance the mule coin could get graded. Given the obvious die lines on the present mule specimen, it should only be a matter of searching to locate matching dies to both the obverse and reverse! It is very unlikely that new dies were used just to coin this one specimen, and the dies were very likely normal production dies which happened to be available when the new reverse was being adapted by the mints.

Okay, let’s do some simple math. Walter Breen states in his Encyclopedia that die life for Lincoln cents produced during this period was around 700,000 coins per die (page 233). Mintage for 1958-D cents (it being reasonable to assume the reverse die would have been a 1958-D) was 800,953,000 divided by 700,000 coins per die equals approximately 1,145 dies. Now, let’s do the obverse die, 1959-D mintage was 1,279,760,000 divided by 700,000 equals 1,828 obverse dies. Well, while daunting, the task at hand is not insurmountable! Examining circulated coins will not work (I tried that), as the die lines quickly disappear after limited circulation. Thus, this endeavor will best be completed by purchasing bags and bags of 1958-D cents (about $5 per roll of 50 coins) and bags and even more bags of 1959-D cents (about $1 per roll) and quick examination of the coins will hopefully produce an exact match to the unique die lines seen as a signature on this coin. Matching the two dies from regular issue coins to this mule piece will prove that the coin was struck from genuine Denver Mint dies, and given the absolute assertion that the coin is genuine by the United States Secret Service Counterfeit Division it would be hard for anyone to refute the coins authenticity. Once the dies are matched up, we are confident the grading services will have to certify and grade the coin as a genuine Mint product.

How did this coin come about? It is very difficult to imagine that somehow just one slipped out and got into circulation, although anything is possible given the massive production of coins each year at the Mint (stranger things have happened). It was more likely made during a quiet moment at the Denver Mint, under similar circumstances to the one known 1943-D copper cent, a special striking as it were, not unlike dozens and dozens of other famous rarities produced during the last 209 years at the various United States mints.
Valuing this unique cent is virtually impossible. We feel confident that it will bring less than the similarly unique 1933 double eagle at $7,590,020. Perhaps it will bring a price similar to the unique 1943-D copper cent, which realized $82,500 way back in 1996 at a Superior Sale, or the more current example of the extremely rare 1943-S copper cent which was NGC MS-61 Brown which realized $115,000 in our February 2000 Sale.

For those out there in coinland who have the time and inclination, the dies could quite possibly be matched up just from the photos in the Wexler Flynn reference, or from the photos in this catalog, prior to the auction of this coin in September. If there isn’t time, it is likely the matching dies could be found and the coin resubmitted with the additional evidence and a copy of the Treasury Report.

In particular, please note the die lines which should be easy to match up when compared with other mint 1958-D and 1959-D cents, on the obverse look for the die line which connects the lower loop of the B in LIBERTY to the upper half left side of the upright of the E. The reverse is very easy to identify, there is a long die line from the middle serif of the F in OF up to the center of the upright of the E in CENT. Also, we note two or three parallel die lines extending down at an angle from the left wheat ear near the top. These are very clearly visible on the coin under magnification, and are also seen in excellent detail on page 335 of the Wexler Flynn reference book.

While controversial, this coin seems to be turning the tide in its favor with the Treasury Report, and with a little research, could soon be die linked to other existing 1958-D and 1959-D cents, which will likely lay the controversy to bed, and the coin can finally be accepted by the grading services and other experts in the Lincoln cent series.

As the controversy still swirls around this mule, the major grading services have chosen NOT to grade this coin as of yet. Nevertheless, we feel that if someone took the time to locate other examples of the obverse and reverse dies which were used for normal production coins, combined with the more thorough Secret Service Authenticity Report of 2002, there would be a better chance that the coin may get graded in the future.

The property is not guaranteed to be authentic, and is marketable as is, and can not be returned.
Estimated Value $40,000 – 50,000.
Ex: Goldberg Sale #17 Lot 159 Feb 2003 realized $48,300.

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