The 1955 Doubled Die Lincoln Cent is a famous and popular die variety of the Lincoln Cent series. Struck from a single die pair during a single day, it is one of the most strongly doubled dies to have occurred within American numismatics, with the doubling plainly visible even without magnification. Due to the limited number of examples struck and the dramatic appearance, examples are highly valued and eagerly sought by collectors.
Doubled Dies, as they are called in numismatics, are created when coinage dies are made from the hubs featuring the design of the coin. To make sure all details of the coin design are impressed into the working die, multiple impressions are necessary. Usually, the hub does not shift between the impressions on the die, but occasionally this does happen. When this occurs some of the lettering, devices or both will appear doubled, with the second impression being removed from the first impression. Some spreads are very small, and only noticeable under magnification. Others, such as the 1955 Doubled Die Lincoln Cent, are easily recognizable, thanks to the wide spread that was created when the hub shifted between the first and second impression of the working die.
It is generally assumed that the 1955 Doubled Die cents were all struck in a single day, during a period when there was a shortage of circulating cents and the Mint was having a difficult time keeping up with demand. On that particular day, several presses were striking cents which were all dumped into a single box. A mint inspector had noticed the unusual appearance of some of the cents mixed into the box, but they were released into circulation since it was deemed impractical to melt the entire lot due to a small number of defective pieces.
During the next few months the error coins turned up across the Atlantic seaboard, with the first example discovered in Massachusetts in the fall of 1955. Gradually more examples were discovered. An important source was cigarette packs, which cost 23 cents a pack at the time. Since the machines which dispensed them could not refund the change, two cents were pasted on or placed inside the cigarette pack. Research has proven that these cigarette packs constituted a primary source for the doubled die cents.