So, what exactly is a Wide AM and Close AM Cent?
The terms Close AM and Wide AM refer to the spacing between the letters ‘A’ and ‘M’ in “America” on the reverse of the Lincoln Memorial Cent. The terms generally refer to the different die varieties of 1992, 1998, 1999 and 2000. From its introduction in 1959 through 1992, all Lincoln Memorial Cents including both business and proof strikes were intended to have the Wide AM reverse. In 1993 the mint changed to the Close AM reverse for both its business and proof strikes. Then in 1994 the mint changed once more and began to produce all business strikes with Close AMs, while using the Wide AMs on all proofs, until the coins last year of production in 2008.
So, what are the varieties?
The first and rarest of the varieties is the 1992 and 1992D Close AM. It appears that the mint used the reverse die intended for the 1993 cent on an unknown but limited number of 1992 cents at both the Philadelphia and Denver mint. As of the time of this writing, there are only three known examples from the Philadelphia mint and less than 15 from Denver. A 1992D Close AM PCGS AU58 recently fetched $3,550 here on eBay.
The next rarest is the 1998S and 1999S Proof Strike Close AM variety. The 1998 being the rarer of the two, generally selling in the $300 range, and the 1999S around $100.
The third and final variety is the 1998, 1999, and 2000 Wide AM, with the 1999 being the rarest, then 1998, and finally the 2000. Although the least valuable in this article, they may be the most exciting as it can generally be found in circulation. The 2013 Redbook values the 1999 at $500, 1998 at $25, and 2000 at $20. I have personally found the 1998 Wide AM in pocket change.
So, How do I tell them apart?
The simplest and most obvious way to tell the two apart is to first look at a known Wide AM (1959-1991), and compare it with a known Close AM (1993-1997; 2001-2008) with a jewelers loop or magnifying glass. A Close AM should appear to either be touching or have just enough space between the letters for a piece of paper to slide between them. The letters of the Wide AM variety will look separated and like a piece of paper will have a lot of wiggle room if slid between. After examining under a magnifying glass enough times, your eye will become accustomed to the difference, and you should be able to tell which is which with the naked eye.
The other way to tell them apart is to look at the distance between the initials “FG” and the base of the Lincoln Memorial. The Close AM variety will have wide initials, whereas the Wide AM variety will have close initials. Just remember the opposite will be true for the initials and the AM. I personally find this method unnecessary and more difficult than the first.
To summarize the following is normal:
- 1959-1992 all business strikes and proofs are supposed to have a Wide AM
- 1993 all business strikes and proofs have a Close AM
- 1994-2008 all business strikes have a Close AM
- 1994-2008 all proofs have a Wide AM
What this means is that the following list of confirmed variations from these rules are valuable in order from most to least rare:
- 1992-P Business Strike Close AM
- 1992-D Business Strike Close AM
- 1998-S Proof Close AM
- 1999-S Proof Close AM
- 1999-P Business Strike Wide AM
- 1998-P Business Strike Wide AM
- 2000-P Business Strike Wide AM
In January 2009, Billy Crawford author of Die Variety News, a bi-monthly magazine dedicated to the various die varieties of Lincoln cents and other US coins, reported the discovery of a unique 1996 Wide AM variety Lincoln Cent. The coin was reported to have a 50 degree rotational die error reverse and be of the Wide AM variety. It was said to have been stolen from him along with other coins in a robbery outside of a coin show a short time later. Its existence was never authenticated by a third party grading service, and its current whereabouts is unknown.
Wide AM vs Close AM Lincoln Varieties