1909 was a year of change for the Lincoln cent. The U.S. President at the time, William Howard Taft, felt that the coin’s design needed to be updated and more artistic. He recruited famed sculptor Victor David Brenner to create a new design featuring a portrait of Abraham Lincoln on one side and two stalks of wheat on the other, hence earning the nickname “wheat penny.”
While initially met with mixed reactions from the public, the wheat penny’s design quickly became a staple in American coinage. However, with the introduction of more efficient minting processes and materials in the 1960s, the wheat penny was phased out and replaced with the current Lincoln Memorial cent design.
This coin is the first one featuring a president’s portrait. Before that it was common to instead have Lady Liberty as the central figure on coins.
Since it’s been phased out of minting for over 60 years, the wheat penny has become a coveted collector’s item. Its role as an important piece of American history and its scarcity in circulation have driven up its value.
In this article, you are going to learn everything you need to know about the Lincoln wheat penny. Its history, how to evaluate one, and how much money you need to add one to your collection.
The History of the Lincoln Wheat Penny
The wheat penny was released in 1909 to commemorate 100 years since President Lincoln’s birth. The reverse design of the coin features two stalks of wheat, symbolizing Lincoln’s time as a farmer before his career in politics. A major reason for redesigning the penny was President Taft’s desire for a more artistic coin. Before 1909, American coins featured Lady Liberty as their central figure. The wheat penny was the first to feature a president’s portrait, making it a historic coin in American history.
We can observe the text “E Pluribus Unum”, meaning “out of many, one”, inscribed on the reverse. It symbolizes the unity of the country. The observe features the words “In God We Trust”, symbolizing the country’s religious foundation.
The wheat penny was the first coin to feature a president’s portrait, setting a precedent for future coins like the Roosevelt dime and Washington quarter.
The design was curated by Victor David Brenner, a Lithuanian-born sculptor who immigrated to the United States at a young age. He is also known for designing several commemorative medals, including one for President Lincoln’s 100th birthday in 1909 and the 1914 Panama-Pacific International Exposition.
1909 saw four different varieties of the wheat penny in circulation, each with slightly different designs. The most notable difference was the positioning of Brenner’s initials, V.D.B., which were initially placed on the reverse but later moved to the obverse under Lincoln’s shoulder. The V.D.B wheat penny varieties are highly coveted by collectors and can fetch a high price.
The wheat penny saw several changes throughout its production, including a change in metal composition during World War II. From 1942-1945, the coins were made with steel and coated in zinc to conserve copper for the war effort.
The wheat penny was last minted in 1958, when it was replaced by the current Lincoln Memorial design. Despite its shorter production run compared to other coins, over 1 billion wheat pennies were minted each year during its peak production.
The Value of Lincoln Wheat Pennies
No matter if you are a seasoned collector or a beginner, it’s important to know how to properly evaluate a wheat penny. You need to at least be able to assess whether or not the coin is genuine, and if the professional grading service did a good job at determining its condition.
First, check for any signs of counterfeiting or alterations. Make sure the date and design match up with what should be on a wheat penny. Once you’ve done that, you can get into the actual evaluation process. Here’s what you should be looking at to estimate the value of a Lincoln wheat penny:
- The coin’s grade — This is determined by a professional coin grading service, and it’s based on the coin’s condition. Grades go 0 to 70 and are accompanied by a label like “Good” or “Mint State.” The higher the grade, the more valuable the coin. Here’s a grading chart that lets you better understand the grading system.
- Mint mark — The mint mark indicates where the coin was produced, and certain locations or years can make a wheat penny more valuable. For example, the 1909-S V.D.B. wheat penny is one of the most valuable because it was only produced in limited quantities at the San Francisco mint.
- Scarcity — The overall scarcity of a wheat penny also plays a role in its value. Some years had much lower mintages, making those wheat pennies rarer. Overall, a well-preserved wheat penny with an interesting history can fetch quite a high price. However, even common wheat pennies in good condition can still be worth keeping. They are a valuable part of American history and make for a unique addition to any coin collection.
- Minting errors — Coins that have minting errors, such as a double-die or off-center strike, can be worth much more than their standard counterparts. These mistakes are rare and sought after by collectors.
- The coin’s looks — A wheat penny’s appearance can also affect its value. Simply put, even if the coin is of a low grade but is aesthetically pleasing, be it because of its luster or interesting toning, it can still fetch a higher price.
A big distinction to make is between MS and PR coins: MS stands for Mint State, meaning the coin has not been circulated and is in its original condition. PR stands for Proof, indicating that the coin was specially minted for collectors and not intended for circulation
A word about grades. There is a huge divide between Circulated and Uncirculated coins. Grades from 0 to 59 are considered Circulated, meaning the coin has been used for everyday transactions and shows signs of wear. Grades 60 to 70 are Uncirculated, meaning the coin has not been circulated or spent. The higher the grade, the better condition the coin is in and therefore, the higher its value will be. As a general rule, Uncirculated coins will be worth more than Circulated coins of the same variety because of their pristine condition.
That said, even the oldest, worst looking wheat penny can still have some value. While the grade may be lower and it may not fetch as high of a price, it’s still worth having in a collection or even just for sentimental value.
Here’s a great video that goes into more details regarding grading Lincoln wheat pennies:
This coin can be extremely valuable, so much that some pieces have gone for hundreds of thousands of dollars, like this 1944-S one.
But you don’t necessarily have to shell out a lot of money to add wheat pennies to your collection. Let’s see some recent auction prices to better understand how valuable these coins can sell for.
Editor’s note: There are too many coins to have a table with each year, so we grouped them by timeframes of 10 years. This ensures price accuracy without drowning you in data, especially since prices are often similar within each decade. We kept 1909 as a standalone year because of its significance, being the first time the Lincoln wheat penny was released.
|Coin Year & Mint||Average Circulated (Poor to Fine)||Very Fine, Extremely Fine & About uncirculated||Uncirculated & Select Uncirculated MS-60 to MS-63||Choice & Gem Uncirculated MS-64 to MS-66||Superb & Perfect Uncirculated MS-67 to MS-70|
|1909 Lincoln MS (P & S)||$10-$30, with one sale for $431||$7-$25, plus a $403 sale and a $2,300 one.||$15-$30. S versions get up to $300||Prices start $30 and get up to a few hundred dollars (1 and 2) for RD and CAC ones. S coins can fetch up to $7,638||Most go for around $3,000, with a record sale of $7,200 for a P MS67+RD coin. S versions are much rarer, and have gone for tens of thousands of dollars (1 and 2), with a jaw-dropping record auction price of $69,000.|
|1909 (S)||Around $75||$120-$306||$320||Only 4 sales: one for $470, one for $1,380, and the last 2 for around $3,000||No sales|
|1909 VDB (P & S)||$15-$25||2 main price points: $15–$30 and $1,500–$2,000||$10–$70, with a record sale of $1,700||$65–$150. MS66 fetch a few hundred dollars at auctions (1, 2, and 3). Double died obverse versions can sell for around $10,000 (1 and 2)||Prices start at around $1,500, but quickly balloon to over $7,000 (1 and 2), with 2 sales for $55,200 and $56,400. A doubled died obverse sells for up to $24,150|
|1909 PR (P & VDB)||Doesn’t exist||Doesn’t exist||$200-$900, but a few VDB coins went for over $10,000 (1 and 2)||$600–$1,000. VDB ones sell for a few thousand dollars (1 and 2), but can go for up to $70,000 (1, 2, and 3)||Non VDB coins start at $1,800 and get up to $59,800. The only PR67+ VDB sale was for a crazy $258,800|
|1910 – 1920 (P, D & S)||$20-$120||$6 to $125, with a few outliers like this one that sold for $500||Most go for around $80, with a few reaching up to $350||You can easily snag an MS64 one with $60. RD ones will cost you around $250. MS66 get quite costly, around $5,500-$7,000 (1 and 2). The rarest ones fetch tens of thousands of dollars (1 and 2)||Prices start at around $6,900 and go up to $38,000 for MS68 ones (1 and 2)|
|1910 – 1916 PR||Doesn’t exist||Doesn’t exist||$150-$500. Some reach up to $1,600||$750 –$10,000. The record sale is for this PR66+ coin that sold for $22,325||With an astounding record sale of $126,500|
|1921 – 1931 (P, D & S)||$15-$100. A few sold for over $1,000, like this $1,800 piece.||$10–$200||$20–$250. Around $500 is another big price point (1 and 2).A few notable sales are this one for $2,013 and this $2,500 one||$30–$170. MS65 coins easily get up to $500. Some fetch prices around $50,000 (1, 2, and 3). The record sale was for this MS65RD coin that sold for $149,500||Prices start at around $200. Many MS67+ coins go for $5,000-$10,000 (1, 2, and 3).|
|1932 – 1942 (P, D & S)||Around $10||Around $25. Some XF coins sold for a few hundred dollars (1 and 2)||Plenty of coins in the $15-$40 range (1, 2, and 3)||$10–$30–$50. Some sell for around $270||$200-$500 is the most common price point (1, 2, and 3). Many go for around $1,200 (1, and 2). The next break is at around $4,000-$5,000 (1 and 2). The record auction was set by this MS68+ 1935 coin that sold for $55,812|
|1936 – 1942 PR||Doesn’t exist||Doesn’t exist||$20-$150. Some get up to almost $500, and even $1,300. There’s also this $5,600 sale to note, as well as this $7,050 one.||$60-$130 for most PR64 and PR65 coins, although a few ones can go around $3,000 (1 and 2). Some break the $10,000 barrier (1 and 2)||$4,500 – $17,000 (1 and 2)|
|1943 – 1944 Steel (P, D & S)||$7-$20||You can find these coins for prices between $20 and $5,000. But there’s also this record-breaking AU58 coin that sold for $218,500.||$13–$250. But there are some outliers, such as this MS61 coin that sold for a staggering $115,000||Prices start at around $50 (1 and 2). A price point to consider is the $1,000-$1,500 one (1 and 2).||Many MS67 coins sold for around $20-$600 (1, 2, and 3). Another big cluster of MS67 coins sold for around $150-$200 (1, 2, and 3). An important price point is the $1,500-$2,000 one (1 and 2).|
|1944 – 1954 (P, D & S)||$6||$8–$80. Or $500||Many go for around $10 (1 and 2). Another big price point is around $300-$500 (1 and 2). Some go up to $800||You will find plenty around the $15-$35 mark (1, 2, and 3). Some get up to a few hundred dollars, like this $425 one||You can get one for $300 (1 and 2). Prices rise up to a few thousand dollars (1, 2, and 3). A few sell for $10,000 (1 and 2). The record auction sale is held by this MS67 1946 coin that sold for $14,950|
|1950 – 1958 PR||Doesn’t exist||Doesn’t exist||$13 to $500. Some PR60 coins can fetch up to $4,888||Anywhere between $14 and a few thousand dollars (1, 2, and 3)||$1,500-$3,000 is the most common price point (1, 2, and 3). The record sale is for this PR68DCAM coin that sold for $64,625|
|1955 – 1958 (P, D & S)||Not many recent sales, there’s this one for $109 and this other one for $661||$8-$20 (1 and 2). Another big price point is $300-$700 (1 and 2)||Most go for around $15-$50 (1 and 2). Some fetch a few hundred dollars (1 and 2). Others go up to $1,600||Prices start around $10 (1, 2, and 3). The next big price point is around $100 (1 and 2). The record sale was for this 1958 MS64 doubled die obverse coin that sold for $336,000||Prices start around $20-$70 (1 and 2). $150- $200 is another big price point (1 and 2). The rarest coins coins go for $7,000-$8,000 (1, 2, and 3). A couple reach over $10,000 (1 and 2).
The record sale was for this 1955 MS65+ doubled die obverse coin that sold for $114,000
Editor’s note: The Steel coins were specifically struck during WW2, as copper was needed for the war efforts.
As you can see, even within the same year, the prices can vary greatly depending on the grade and mint mark. And remember, these are just auction prices for recently sold wheat pennies. The actual value of a coin can also depend on the current market and demand for that specific variety.
Explaining the Big Price Variations
Now, you may be wondering why some wheat pennies can sell for just a couple of dollars while others are worth thousands. As mentioned earlier, the grade, mint mark, scarcity, and even looks all play a role in determining value.
But there are other factors to consider: auction fever and the coin’s history. Auctions can drive up the price as bidders compete for a rare find, making the final price much higher than its actual value. As far as history goes, some coins hold extra value for being a part of well-known events or owning interesting provenances, such as being owned by a famous person.
Take a look at the collection they belong to. For example, the Bob Simpson coin collection is a private collection of coins, including wheat pennies, that was started by Bob Simpson in the early 1990s. The collection contains a wide variety of coins from many different years and mint marks, like this 1944-S coin that sold for over $400,000 belongs to the Bob Simpson collection.
Lincoln Wheat Penny Minting Errors
As mentioned earlier, minting errors can greatly increase the value of a wheat penny. Here are some examples of valuable minting errors to look out for:
- Double Died Obverse — One side of the coin is struck twice, resulting in a doubled image. The 1955 Double Die Obverse wheat penny is one of the most famous and valuable errors.
- Off-Center Strike — When the coin is not struck properly at the center, leaving part of the design or date off the edge of the coin.
- Mule — A mule error occurs when the obverse and reverse designs do not match, such as using a Lincoln wheat penny reverse on a Jefferson nickel obverse.
- Repunched mintmark — When a mint mark is punched onto the coin more than once, resulting in a blurred or doubled appearance.
Warning: Just keep in mind that counterfeits and alterations do exist. And since minting errors make for a more valuable coin, counterfeiters are more likely to try to mimic these mistakes. It’s important to purchase from a reputable dealer or get the coin authenticated before making any big purchases.
Keep an eye out for valuable wheat penny errors and variations, some people might not be aware they have one in their collection, or they might think that errors lower the value.
FAQs About the Lincoln Wheat Penny
Can wheat pennies still be used as currency?
The Lincoln wheat penny is no longer in circulation and cannot be used as legal tender. However, they can still be traded or sold for their metal value.
How do I determine the grade of my wheat penny?
You can use a coin grading guide or have the coin professionally graded by a third-party company like PCGS or NGC. You will need a magnifying glass.
What is the most valuable wheat penny?
The record sale was $840,000 for a 1943-S bronze MS wheat penny, one of only a few known to exist.
The Lincoln wheat penny is a beloved and popular coin among collectors. Even beginner collectors will easily find these coins readily available. And you don’t necessarily need to shell out loads of cash for one if you don’t care about the grade or rarity.
But, if you’re looking to add a valuable wheat penny to your collection, keep an eye out for mint errors, scarce varieties, and high grades. And remember to purchase from a reputable dealer or have the coin authenticated before making any big purchases.
Regardless of your collecting goals, the Lincoln wheat penny is a great addition to any collection thanks to its long history and iconic design. It will be a cherished coin for generations to come. Happy collecting!