The Lincoln Cent was designed by Victor D. Brenner in 1909. The mint discovered that it had a
problem manufacturing proof dies for this new design using conventional methods. Previous coin
dies, like the Indian Head Cent, had flat fields that could be easily polished. The new Lincoln cent
design had curved fields that existing equipment could not polish. The mint opted to issue matte
proof coins instead, which was a method previously used by France. Matte proof dies were different
than normal dies for two reasons. First, although the dies used were standard dies, the mint selected
better than average dies with a lot of detail. Plus, the matte proof dies used more pressure than a
normal business strike would use. Also, the matte proof dies were not used for as many strikes as a
normal business strike die. This resulted in strongly defined strikes with strong lettering and square
rims. Second, they have a granular rough surface caused by sandblasting the dies. The granular
surface is actually thousands of dimples on the surface of the dies which results in thousands of
raised bumps on the surface of the coin. Matte proof Lincoln cents have broad and flat rims with
sharp inner and outer edges, a granular rough surface, and strong details.
Matte proofs were officially minted from 1909-1916. It is believed that some 1917 matte proofs were
struck illegally. At least one is known to exist. In 1909 two different types of matte proof were minted,
one bearing the initials V.D.B. and one without. The 1909 V.D.B. matte proof seems to be the rarest
and most valuable matte proof Lincoln cent
It can be difficult to differentiate between a matte proof and a standard business strike. In order to be
sure that a Lincoln cent is a matte proof the coin must possess certain “Diagnostics”. Diagnostics
are small features or defects in the dies that will transfer to all coins struck by those dies. Each of the
9 different matte proofs has their own individual diagnostics. All matte proofs will have a granular
surface, strong details, and a square rim. Also, matte proofs will have a wire rim as opposed to
chamfered rims of business strikes. Furthermore, unlike the rest of the surface of the coin, the rims
will not have a granular surface and the rims should be smooth, broad and flat with sharp edges.
Matte proof Lincoln cents were packaged in “tarnish proof” tissue paper. This tissue paper had a
high sulfur content and did little to prevent tarnish. In fact, the tissue paper over time often created
interesting toning. Matte proof Lincoln’s can have a wide range of rainbow colors. This toning often
adds to a coins appeal; the more vivid the toning the better. Red examples do exist. It is believed
that these red examples were removed from there tissue packaging early and well preserved.
Collectors must be wary of cleaned, whizzed or altered examples.
It is advised that collectors stick to purchasing certified examples of matte proof Lincolns. This will
guarantee the buyer does not get stuck with a cleaned or altered example or even worse, a normal
business strike. If you are buying an uncertified loose example, make sure you are well versed in
diagnostics and can spot the differences in matte proofs vs. normal business strikes.
Matte Proof Lincoln Cents 1909-1916