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What is a Red/Brown Cent? 

In a previous Answer we covered Red (RD) Cents and how they are graded. Red/Brown (RB) is the strike character given to copper coins that have been graded as having between 10% to 90% red mint luster remaining.  

Since this covers a strong gradient range, it also covers many coins within the copper spectrum of large, small, half, two Cent, and pattern coins. 

New copper coins sport a vibrant orange or orange-red hue. However, their color changes as soon as they encounter open air and begin interacting with its gases, which is when oxidation starts.  

Compounds such as hydrogen sulfide, carbonyl, and dimethyl are known culprits for inducing different tones and patinas on copper.  

This oxidative process results in the formation of a copper oxide layer on the coin’s surface, often presenting itself as a distinctive patina or tarnish. This will often begin to turn chocolate brown while other parts of the coin’s surface retain some of the original reddish color. 

What is the Difference Between Red and Red/Brown Cents? 

Whereas Red cents retain up to 95% of their original mint luster and color, Red/Brown coin’s broad range of 90%-10% remaining red color makes up a substantial number of pennies and cents. 

Since there is so much variation within the RB spectrum, let’s break it down into three categories within Red/Brown for easier digestion. 

Almost Red 

These fall just short of the Red character strike and display 75-90% of their mint red color. If there are two otherwise identical coins being compared, and one falls in the almost-red group and the other falls into a lower group, the almost-red coin will be more valuable. 

Some of these may be exceptionally rare, like the 1844 half cent, which carries a premium indicative of its scarcity. 

There are still others, like the 1944 Lincoln cent, which command a relatively low $5 price tag. 

Evenly Red and Brown 

These will exhibit 25-75% of their mint red luster and fall in the middle of the Red/Brown spectrum. While they may be less valuable than almost-red coins, there will still be evenly red and brown coins that carry a high premium for their scarcity. 

Even in the middle of the Red/Brown grouping with a balanced display of red and brown, a key date like the 1909-S VDB Lincoln cent will always be in demand for coin collectors. 

Mostly Brown 

Coins in the third group exhibit the minimum amount of red to quality for the Red/Brown label. 

While these are on the lowest end of the Reb/Brown spectrum, they can still be both valuable and beautiful. 

For instance, this 1803 Draped Bust Large Cent is predominantly brown, and because of the general scarcity of Red/Brown Draped Bust Large Cent coins, it has a substantial premium. 

A 1926-S Lincoln Cent with an almost entirely brown coloring will be worth less than a similarly graded 1926-S penny exhibiting mostly red color in a similar grade. But as a semi-key date this coin is still valuable to collectors. 

How do Grading Organizations Assess Red/Brown Cents? 

As with other strike characters and designations, the two primary coin grading authorities have different standards for the Red/Brown character strike. 

How PCGS Grades Red/Brown Cents 

Professional Coin Grading Services (PCGS) limits the Red/Brown label to coins that have a Sheldon grade of MS-60 or higher. In addition to this adjectival minimum, the coin must retain 5-95% of its original red mint color. 

How NGC Grades Red/Brown Cents 

Coins must exhibit 15-85% of their original red mint luster to be eligible for the Red/Brown label from the Numismatic Guarantee Corporation (NGC). 

Are Red/Brown Cents Valuable? 

While the value of a coin is dependent on numerous factors like the strike, relative scarcity, and market demand for the coin, RB cents can be valuable.  

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