I started collecting Lincoln Cents way back in the 1960's finding collectible pennies by going through my parent's change. Every once in a while, after having saved 50 cents or so, I'd go to the coin shop and buy a penny I could afford. Needless to say I didn't get very far and the collection book was really sparce. Then I lost interest as kids do. Later in life I picked up the book again and with a renewed interest and greater resources I decided to start working on the collection again.
There is little hope these days of going through your change and finding any penny of a collectible date or quality. You have to buy what you want from a dealer or from one of the many on-line or live auctions. Ebay is a great resource but you have to be very careful with authenticity. To buy a coin of any significant value it really must come encased in a plastic slab prepared by one of the third party grading and authentication services. I have deslabbed all of the coins so purchased preferring to enjoy them in the collection book without the interfering plastic case but I do recognize that if I ever want to sell any coin of value it would have to be resubmitted and reslabbed.
The next thing you have to decide is what you are going to collect. What makes collecting Lincoln Cents so interesting is the great variety of coins that can be collected. There are the normal business strikes with many die variations and mint marks. There are also the proof coins and special mint strikes. At first I just focused on the business strikes, completing that collection without regard for mintmark style or die variations. Then I added one each of the various mintmark styles in years that had more than one style from a particular mint. This was difficult to do as this is not currently a popular differentiation and seldom are the cents identified as having a particular mintmark style. I had to carefully examine images of on-line offerings to determine which they were. Often the images didn't reflect the actual item offered or were insufficiently detailed to tell. Eventually though I did manage to complete the mintmark style collection for both the San Francisco and Denver mints.
Then, as I feared would happen, I got somewhat obsessed with this and started a proof collection. First the brilliant proofs from 1936 to 1942 and 1950 to present plus Special Mint Sets. Then the very rare matte proofs from 1909 to 1916. The last and most difficult was, of course, the crown jewel 1909 VDB matte proof. I have not felt the need nor do I have the ability to obtain the finest example of each coin. Rather, I simply wanted to have a "complete" collection of good quality that includes one example of each.
I did draw the line at doubled die coins. I have none of those. There are so many types and variations with new ones constantly being discovered and certified that the chase would never end and I could never enjoy the satisfaction of having a "complete" collection. Anyway, please enjoy the large detailed images of both the obverse and reverse of the collection.
Here are microscopic images of specific die characteristics seen on the 1909 through 1916 matte proofs. I highly recommend a book indispensible to matte proof collectors entitled "Lincoln Cent Matte Proofs" by Kevin Flynn. This is a comprehensive work that greatly adds to the pleasure of collecting these coins by presenting detailed information about mint history and techniques for matte proof authentication.
Here are close-up images of the various mintmark styles and variations for the Denver and San Francisco mints for those years in which a mint produced more than one style. Images of these for every year is available at Variety Vista.
This web page presents the various styles for 1974 and makes a case for recognizing and assigning a Type I and Type II designation for 1974 Proofs similar to what is done for the 1979 and 1981 mintmark variations.
Some Business Strike coins do not have the VDB designer's initials under the coat on the obverse. More on this not very popular characteristic here.