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2003 "Wavy Steps" Lincoln Variety
Presents Numismatic Puzzle

by Ken Potter - NLG
September 20, 2003
Revised slightly to eliminate text no longer considered pertinent to the discussion on 12/29/03

   An interesting report has come in from variety coin specialists Harold Kuykendall of Virginia describing a 2003 cent with "wavy steps" that he suggests is similar to the effect on one of the doubled die reverse Lincoln cent listings of 1994.  (Editors Note:  Since this article was written another coin that was originally mentioned in this article has been examined and determined to be of other less significant causes and not relevant to this discussion -- thus we have edited out that portion of the text and reformatted slightly).
    The diagnostics of two 2003 pieces I have seen so far are, waviness (to a greater or lesser degree) on the upper several steps below each column and a what looks like trails from the designer's initials FG to the south (not shown).  The waviness of the steps appears more prominent below the four columns bordering the seated statue of Lincoln within the center of the building but can be seen as faint traces under all columns.
    The 1994 doubled die variety which also contains "wavy steps" is believed to be the result of weak traces of the flutes from the columns of the Memorial building (from an earlier hubbing) evident as a southerly shift down in the steps of the building.  It also features an FG with trails to the south.   See that coin here: 1994 1c VCR#2/DDR#2.
    What is most interesting about these reports is that after the first coin arrived, I was prompted to search my pocket change to see if I had any 2003 cents to compare to the "wavy steps" variety so that I could see exactly what a normal one should look like.  To my surprise, the first one that I pulled from my pocket boasted "wavy steps"  -- only stronger than on the one sent in by Kuykendall!   The second coin was normal with straight steps.
    What does all of this suggest?  The fact is we just do not know what to think yet.  It could be distortion caused by the heat treat process used to harden the dies.  We also understand that at least some business strike dies (perhaps all) are now being plated with chromium to make them last longer and maybe this is a factor.  Still another consideration is distortion that may have been caused by the movement of a very slightly tilted die blank being seated into proper position by the force of the hubbing process as image is being impressed (a doubled die). 
    What we do know for sure is that the phenomenon is interesting and could lead us to a new variety to collect if in fact the "wavy steps" variation represents a different hub (from the normal straight steps version) with the variations in the strength just representing hub or die stages.
    The last non-doubled die "wavy step" varieties that we are aware of involved the 1939 business strikes (on all Mints) and the 1940 proof Jefferson nickels struck with the "wavy" ill-defined steps reverse type of 1938 that feature the Monticello building.   While being virtually ignored on the business strikes of 1939 where either variety is easily found, it has proven quite popular for the rare proof issue of 1940 where it is listed in the 1994 3rd edition of the Cherrypickers' Guide To Rare Die Varieties by Bill Fivaz and J.T. Stanton at $350.00 in Proof-63 grade and $700.00+ in Proof-65 grade.  This same coin with the normal "straight" steps reverse type of 1940 lists in Coin World Trends in Proof-63 at $40.00 and in Proof-65 at $140.00  Numismatic News Coin Market lists the normal variety in Proof-65 at $65.00. 
    Since the 2003 varieties are undoubtedly the product of the single-squeeze hubbing process which replaced the multiple hubbing process in 1997 and 1998, it suggests that a review of the 1994 doubled die variety with wavy steps is in order.  This coin may not in fact be a doubled die due to processes we are aware of.
    Reports of additional finds and opinions are welcome!

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