Written by Javier Mercado
Wheat Pennies are part of the Lincoln Pennies family and probably one of the most valuable old coins. It is widely available and easy to find in good condition, making it a very affordable and fun collection for any contemporary coin collector.
How to correctly identify a Wheat Penny
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 will focus on the so-called Wheat Penny, the first guy to be coined from Lincoln’s pennies.
The penny 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 the Wheat Penny, we have three possibilities.
How to determine the value of Wheat Pennies
We need to look at the small lettering just below the year embossment.
- If it doesn’t have any letters, it was minted at the main Philadelphia Mint.
- If we find an S, it was coined in San Francisco.
- If we find a D, then Denver is its origin.
Another feature we must consider is the type of coinage our Wheat Penny 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 penny (above), and a PROOF penny (below). The differences between the two are more than clear.
The last parameter to look at when referencing our penny 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.
The value of Wheat Pennies
Wheat pennies are coins that, 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 pennies. You may want to look out for certain things about our coin. Keep reading to find out…
Lincoln Wheat Pennies of value
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.
Wheat penny 1957 value chart
As we can see, up to MS65, the rise is very gradual, only a few cents in increase. But when we reach grade MS66, there is a very important price change, and as you can see, the 1957 Wheat Pennies in MS67 costs approximately 100 times more than in MS60.
#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 1943 Wheat Pennies, 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 Wheat Penny – $7,500 – $200,000
The opposite case to the 1943 bronze coinage is the zinc-plated steel coinage, the 1944 Wheat Penny. 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 about valuable 1944 Wheat Pennies
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 1944 Wheat Penny and don’t forget that the Wheat Penny of 1945 and 1946 also fetch good money.
#3 1909-S VDB Wheat Penny – $1,500 – $100,000
The first Wheat Penny 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, the 1909 Wheat Penny-S VDB 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.
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 wheat cent.
The Wheat Penny – 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.
Wheat Pennies 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.
Apasionado de las inversiones, historia y coleccionismo de monedas en general. Licenciado en Antropología Cultural por la UNED y graduado en Informática por la Universidad de Cádiz. Escribo en diversos medios digitales especializados en coleccionismo, subastas y antigüedades.
A fan of investments, numismatics, history and coin collecting in general. Graduate in Cultural Anthropology and computer science. I write in several digital media specialized in collecting, auctions and antiques reviews. I like reliable information, so my main sources are the American Numismatic Association (ANA), the Numismatic Literary Guild (NLG) and numismatic publications: CoinWeek, COINage, The Numismatist, Numismatic News, Coin Dealer Newsletter and Coin Values.