Ed. note: This article is periodically updated to reflect the current price of most valuable coins.
Wheat Pennies are part of the Lincoln Pennies family (here’s a Penny values chart 2021/2022) and some of them are one of the most expensive coins in the world. It is widely available and easy to find in good condition, making it a very affordable and fun collection for any contemporary coin collector.
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Wheat penny value chart by year(2022 Update)
Coin collectors will always talk to unify pricing criteria in currencies graduated by NGC or PCGS from MS-60. In these common and easily obtainable pieces, prime quality is rewarded enormously, and Wheat Penny prices grow exponentially. Let’s see a very concrete example, a common coin.
|Position||Type of Wheat Penny||Key Date||Auction Record|
|#1||Bronze wheat penny||1943||$1,750,000|
|#2||Steel wheat penny||1944||$200,000|
|#3||1909-S VDB Wheat Penny||1909||$100,000|
The value of Wheat Pennies
These series of american coins, with few exceptions, were minted in incredibly high quantities. So in order for a coin to fetch a high price on the collector’s market or as an investment, we need one of these two characteristics:
– An especially good state of condition. It must not have suffered any kind of wear and tear from circulation, nor must it be nicked or scratched. It has to be pristine, just as it came out of the minting press, with a natural weathered patina and uniform color.
– One of the few rare pieces. You may want to look out for certain things about our coin. Keep reading to find out…
How to correctly identify
It has been in circulation for over a century. The motif began to be used in 1909, from a photograph taken of the great President in 1864, and is still in use today.
Lincoln’s bust has been virtually unchanged all these years. However, the motif on the back has changed somewhat. In this article, we are focusing on the so-called Wheat Penny, the first guy to be coined from Lincoln’s pennies.
This coin was used from 1909 to 1958 when it was replaced by the Memorial Penny, a coin that depicts the President’s bust on the front side, but completely replaces the motif on the back with an engraving of the Lincoln Memorial Building.
In order to properly reference our coin, we first need to know its mint. In the case of this piece, we have three possibilities.
We need to look at the small lettering just below the year embossment.
Type of Mint Marks
- Wheat Penny no mint mark: If it doesn’t have any letters, it was minted at the main Philadelphia Mint.
- Wheat Penny “S” mintmark: If we find an S, it was coined in San Francisco.
- Wheat Penny “D” mintmark: If we find a D, then Denver is its origin.
Another feature we must consider is the type of coinage our piece has. As a general rule, the Mint coins have two differing qualities:
- Circulation coins are the normal coins that we use in our daily transactions.
- Coining PROOF coins are made directly for the collector market. They are manufactured in a high level of detail with great care, and this provides them with a characteristic mirror shine, making them more aesthetically attractive.
In the images, we can see a normal circulating one (above), and a PROOF coin (below). The differences between the two are more than clear.
The last parameter to look at when referencing our coin is only necessary on the coins originating from the first year in which they were minted, 1909. The first coins to come out of the mint had the initials of the designer Victor D. Brenner on the back of the coin (VDB).
These pieces are far more rare than their non-VDB counterparts, although they were appreciated and treasured by numismatists and collectors from the beginning. Because of this, it is common to find them in an excellent state of conservation.
List of most valuable Lincoln Pennies – Auction Records
1. 1943 Bronze Wheat Penny – $60,000 – $1,750,000
In 1943, due to the entry of the United States into World War II, copper for coinage became necessary for military equipment factories. To replace it, the Lincoln Cent was minted in a zinc-plated steel coin blank.
However, it is assumed that by mistake, some coin blanks left over from the previous year entered the press in the three mints.
For these pieces, of which about 25 are known in total, and many of them in circulation, hundreds of thousands of dollars can be forked out, including more than a million for the best-preserved ones.
2. 1944 Steel Lincoln One Cent – $7,500 – $200,000
The opposite case to the 1943 bronze coinage is the zinc-plated steel coinage, the 1944 one. In December 1943, it was agreed that these coins would be re-minted in bronze, but some coin blanks were leaked with the new wedges, and very few units were produced in the previous year’s material.
Thing to know
It should be noted that in that year there were a large number of steel coin blanks at the Philadelphia Mint, which were used to mint the Belgian two franc coin. Belgium, a country destroyed by the war, had to subcontract the production of cash to the American Mint. Check out your coin and don’t forget that the pieces of 1945 and 1946 also fetch good money.
3. 1909-S VDB Wheat Penny – $1,500 – $100,000
The first one cent coins minted were produced with the initials of designer Victor D. Brenner at the bottom of the reverse. Among these, the rarest are those minted at the San Francisco Mint.
It is important to keep in mind that since the only difference from the normal 1909 Mint coins is the engraving of these initials.
This type of piece is the most counterfeited coin in all of American numismatics. A total of four reverse dies are known for this issue, and we do not recommend you purchase them without a thorough knowledge of them.
Coins that come out of these three ‘white mirlors’, graduated in MS-60, can cost approximately $25 to $300 in the first years of issue – until the late 1920s. In the 1930s they can be bought for between $5 and $30. Post-Great War, given their mass production, there are few that cost more than $1.
These price ranges apply mostly to coins minted in Philadelphia and San Francisco. The Denver Mint’s production numbers were significantly lower, and therefore coins marked with a ‘D’ can fetch much higher prices than their more common contemporaries.
Grading your Wheat Penny
To graduate a piece we need both the grade and level, an alphanumeric grade.
Attending its characteristics we have the following levels:
Note: In this example the type of currency is not important, the main thing is that you learn to recognize the relevant factors in each one. Then you will be able to grade all types of currencies!
Circulated states of conservation
Poor, poor (P-1): Few currency details. Just to be able to identify it’s type and date, sometimes not even that. Usually, they are excessively circulated and quite mistreated specimens with a flat design. The edges are flat and hardly distinguishable from the fields.
Fair, regular (FR-2): Copies with enough details for identification of type, date, mint, etc. but not as badly treated as the previous one. The edges start to be distinguished from the coin field, and some contours of the coin images.
About Good, almost good (AG-3): Most of the design is appreciated. You can read several letters and/or digits of the date.
Good, good (G-4): High wear, little visibility of details but letters and digits are almost clearly visible. The overall design of the coin is appreciated.
Good, good (G-6): The edges are clear and not smooth. Letters and digits are better appreciated.
Very Good, very good (VG-8): They are still exemplary with important wear but the main characteristics can be appreciated, although very smoothly.
Very Good, very good (VG-10): All but smooth design is appreciated. As a general rule, to be accepted to enter this category, Barber, Liberty Nickels and Indian Head Cents must have at least 3 letters of the word LIBERTY visible.
Fine, good (F-12): Important and uniform wear, but the most important elements can be seen with some clarity. Letters of the legends are not joined with the edge.
Fine, either (F-15): Similar to above and some letters or digits are clear. For Barber, Liberty Nickels and Indian Head Cents coins the 7 letters of the word LIBERTY should be visible even if some are ill-defined.
Very Fine, Very Good/Very Fine (VF-20): More moderate wear with some sharper detail. The legends, or part of them, can be easily seen and are more separated from the edge.
Very Fine, very good/very fine (VF-25): Almost complete details with very smooth design areas.
Very Fine, very good/very fine (VF-30): The design areas are smooth.
Very Fine, Very Good/Very Fine (VF-35): Full details but the highest points of the design are worn.
Extremely Fine, extremely good (EF-40): Slight wear and tear at the highest points. The finest and smallest details are already visible. Legends re-created.
Extremely Fine, extremely good (EF-45): Wear and tear on the highest points is minimal.
About Uncirculated (AU-50): The part is slightly worn by more than 50%. The highest points of the design have a slight softness.
About Uncirculated (AU-53): Similar to the above, but the raised areas of the design have minimal smoothness.
About Uncirculated (AU-55): Wear is present on less than 50% of the part.
About Uncirculated (AU-58): Wear only at high points in the design. Coins in this grade are so good that they are often confused with MS grades (the higher grades we will see below).
Uncirculated states of conservation
For uncirculated coins, there are 11 other grades that are usually called Mint State (MS) although they are also assigned denominations such as Uncirculated (Unc.) or Brilliant Uncirculated (BU).
We refer in these grades to coins that show no signs of having circulated and are well minted but may have marks or scratches from handling or storage, discoloration in glosses, or the odd tap. In such cases, the numerical grades within MS are used.
Uncirculated (MS-60): No wear on elevated areas. Coining was weak. Many abrasions, scratches or marks. Faint gloss.
Uncirculated (MS-61): Basically differs from the previous one in that the dashes, marks, etc. are smaller.
Uncirculated (MS-62): Medium coinage, less slack than previous grades Large abrasions.
Select Uncirculated (MS-63): Abrasions less than the previous grade. Stripes of various sizes. Slight shine.
Choice Uncirculated (MS-64): Medium coinage or higher. Marks, stripes and other minor flaws.
Gem Uncirculated (MS-65): Good coinage with small marks or stripes. Original high gloss.
Gem Uncirculated (MS-66): Very good coinage with few stripes/marks.
Superb Gem Uncirculated (MS-67): Strong coinage with some imperfections.
Superb Gem Uncirculated (MS-68): Strong coinage with tiny imperfections not visible to the naked eye. Perfect original shine. High visual appeal.
Superb Gem Uncirculated (MS-69): Perfectly coined with imperceptible imperfections, needing to be enlarged to see them. Perfect original brightness.
Perfect Uncirculated (MS-70): Perfectly minted, centered, perfectly plated coin. No imperfections even at x5 magnification. Complete and original brilliance.
Although they are not strictly proper to this article, yet since they appear quite assiduously in the grading of coins, we think it is important to clarify what the Proof denomination means.
The term Proof (PR or PF) is not a proper grade although it can be misleading. Rather, it refers to the form and method by which a coin was struck. It is also used to grade Proof pieces the 11 levels of MS although with its own acronym, ie PR-60 (=MS60), PR-61 (=MS61), PR-62 (=MS62), etc. based on their conservation, appearance and brightness.
Both PCGS and NGC use the “+” symbol for the graduations of some parts and levels.
PCGS assigns the “+” only for the 30% of the parts with the greatest visual appeal for grades XF-45 to MS-68. NGC uses this “+” (plus) for top coins within each grade so that they look closer to the next higher grade, and also limits it to grades from XF-45 to MS-68.
In addition, NGC also uses a star “*” for those specimens with extraordinary visual appearance (hue, brightness, etc) within the same grade of single color or multicolored but never with dark brown areas that are almost black.
Most valuable Wheat Pennies – Other Key Years
Look for these years and you won’t regret it – 1919, 1940, 1941, 1942, 1945, 1946, 1956, 1957 and 1958. As we said above, you must take into account that the state of conservation is key to valuing your cent coin.
Conclusion: A great option to start a coin collection with
The Lincoln cents in general are a series of coins that have as many lovers as haters. As we have mentioned, these one-cent coins are probably the most collected series in the world for several reasons:
- Low difficulty in getting almost all the dates.
- Price is very affordable.
- Easy storage, because there are many albums that have the holes ready to be filled with the coins.
- A large number of specialized bibliographies.
These series are an accessible collection for youngsters who want to start in the world of coin collecting, to advanced collectors with important capitals. In most cases, the former will dedicate themselves to filling in the gaps, as if it were a sticker album; and the latter will seek excellence in all their pieces, trying to get copies in very high states of conservation.