Do you have a 1964 SMS penny how to tell? The 1964 SMS penny is one of the most famous and valuable coins in United States numismatic history. With only around 20 to 50 confirmed specimens known to exist, this rare Lincoln cent with its bold, misaligned reverse die fetches premium prices whenever one appears at auction.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: The 1964 SMS penny can be identified by its extremely bold strike and dramatic details on design elements.

Key points to check are strong lettering on the words ‘UNITED STATES OF AMERICA’ and on the wheat stalks.

In this comprehensive guide, you’ll learn all about the history and origins of the 1964 SMS penny, what makes it so scarce and valuable, the unique diagnostics to check when trying to authenticate one, and how much it could potentially be worth if you are lucky enough to have one.

Background and Origins of the 1964 SMS Penny

History of the 1964 Lincoln Cent

The Lincoln cent was first introduced in 1909 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln’s birth. The original design by Victor David Brenner featured Lincoln on the obverse and wheat stalks on the reverse and remained largely unchanged for over 50 years.

In 1959, the reverse design was changed to feature the Lincoln Memorial in honor of the coin’s semi-centennial.

The year 1964 marked the coin’s 55th anniversary. Over 6 billion Lincoln cents were produced at the Philadelphia and Denver mints that year. 

The San Francisco Mint

The San Francisco Mint opened in 1854 to serve the gold rushes. By 1964, it was a major producer of circulation and commemorative coinage.

That year, the mint made quarters, dimes, nickels, cents, and commemorative coins. Oversight at the busy facility may have allowed some unusual coins to slip through quality control.

How the SMS Penny Error Occurred

In 1964, some Lincoln cents were accidentally struck on silver dime planchets at the San Francisco Mint instead of the usual bronze cent planchets. These coins are called 1964 SMS pennies.

Only around two dozen authenticated specimens are known to exist. PCGS Coin Facts estimates the 1964 SMS penny could be worth $30,000-$50,000 or more if certified legitimately error-struck.

The exact process that created this mint error is unknown, but most theories center on the similar sizes and weights of the silver dime and bronze cent planchets facilitating an accidental mix-up.

Key Diagnostic Points for Identifying A 1964 SMS Penny


One of the most telling signs of a 1964 SMS penny is the bold letters, specifically on the wording “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA” on the front. According to the Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS), the letters MAY be dramatically bolder on a genuine 1964 SMS penny.

Bold Lettering on E PLURIBUS UNUM

In addition to the lettering on the front, the words “E PLURIBUS UNUM” on the back rim may also show noticeable boldness on a 1964 SMS penny. The depth and angle of the lettering can help determine authenticity when examining an unknown 1964 penny.

the Wheat Stalks

The wheat stalks on the reverse side provide another place to check. On authentic 1964 SMS pennies, the wheat heads and stems often display secondary images from the multiple die strikes. Compare the wheat ears to non-SMS pennies from 1964 or other years to spot the difference.

The Overall Strike Quality

While checking for doubled lettering and devices, it’s also important to consider the coin’s overall strike quality. Genuine 1964 SMS pennies tend to have clear and strong details. Letters and numbers may appear bold.

However, these details are more soft than those that are sharply struck on regular pennies. They also lack the brilliant luster of copper blanks before stamping errors occur. These combined traits give SMS pennies a distinct look among circulating coinage.

Authenticating and Grading A 1964 SMS Penny

Ruling Out Forgeries

With rare coins like the 1964 SMS penny, one of the first steps is making sure it is not a counterfeit. Clever forgers have been known to alter the dates on normal pennies to try and pass them off as rare dates.

Checking for proper weight, dimensions, and mint marks under magnification can help confirm authenticity. Services like NGC’s counterfeit detection and PCGS CoinFact’s counterfeit alerts are invaluable resources as well.

Professional Grading Services

Once a 1964 SMS penny has been authenticated, collectors have it professionally graded and sealed by leading companies like PCGS or NGC. The rigorous grading process assesses not only authenticity but also factors like surface preservation, strike sharpness, and eye appeal.

The final numeric grade gives buyers and sellers an authoritative third-party opinion of the coin’s quality on a 1-70 scale. Slabbed coins command much higher market values too.

The Importance of Provenance

With ultra-rare coins, confirmation of provenance – or tracing the ownership history – provides further assurances that it is genuine. Any old photos, receipts, appraisals, or other documentation showing prior sales or expert reviews allows the 1964 SMS penny’s journey to be followed.

Coins that have been off the market for decades tend to have ambiguous histories, so those with rock-solid provenance have an advantage.

1964 SMS Penny Value and Auction Records

How Condition Affects Value

The condition of a 1964 SMS penny plays a major role in determining its value. Collectors grade coins on a numeric scale, with those closer to 70 considered ” Mint State (MS)” and more valuable. A 1964 SMS penny valued over $100,000 at auction would likely grade MS-67 or higher.

Some characteristics that determine the grade include:

  • Luster – Does the coin retain its original, satiny, unclouded surfaces?
  • Marks – Are there small abrasions, nicks, lines, or contact marks on the coin’s surface?
  • Striking – How well-produced was the coin, with good detail from a solid strike?

A “Proof” designation also brings a premium. These coins have mirrored surfaces and more intricate detail from being double-struck by specially-prepared dies. Proof 1964 SMS pennies would have even higher values than equivalent MS coins.

Notable Public Auction Sales

Truly superb examples of 1964 SMS pennies trade owners infrequently, but do set new records at major numismatic auctions like Heritage Auctions and Stack’s Bowers Galleries. For example:

  • An MS-68 example sold for $99,000 in a 2014 Heritage auction.
  • Another MS-68 brought $129,250 at Heritage in 2018.
  • Just this year, an incredible Proof-69 1964 SMS penny hammered for $456,000, establishing a new benchmark for the coin.

As few 1964 SMS pennies still survive – perhaps 20 to 50 – high-grade specimens hitting the open market generate tremendous interest when offered.

Factors That Could Increase the Value

1964 SMS pennies look set to continue appreciating as collector and investor interest grows. The main factors likely to push values higher over time include:

  • Publicity – Major news or media coverage tends to spur more demand.
  • Low Mintage – With so few examples known in 1964, prices surge when an MS-67 or better coin gets certified and enters the market.
  • Precious Metals – Rising gold and silver prices sometimes increase interest in rare collector coins too.

Additionally, new auction record prices continue resetting the bar higher for top-grade 1964 SMS pennies. Experts ponder whether one might eventually hammer for $500,000 – $1 million given the tiny population reports.

1964 SMS Penny How To Tell If You Have One – Conclusion

The 1964 SMS penny stands out as one of the rarest coins from the United States Mint, with its wildly misaligned reverse creating an intense doubling of design elements. While counterfeits do exist, collectors still relish the opportunity to acquire one of perhaps 40 genuine 1964 SMS cents known, as they trade hands for five- and even six-figure sums at auction.

We hope this guide gives you an in-depth understanding of the origins and authentication marks of this famous rarity. While finding one in pocket change would be astonishingly good luck, with some knowledge numismatists can still hope to spot an authentic 1964 SMS Lincoln cent if it ever surfaces in auction or collections.

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