Many people have amazing treasures in their possession and don’t even know it. Antiques handed down from relatives. Paintings hanging on the walls. A stack of old books in the basement. The most valuable wheat pennies have traveled great distances before finally being discovered.
Some of the most incredible collectible items sit undetected for decades as their owners simply don’t consider them to have much value. Sometimes they might not even realize they own them at all. Even among the loose change in your desk drawer, an undiscovered nugget could be hiding. It just might pay off to familiarize yourself with the most valuable wheat pennies.
The facts are that many people have no idea an old penny could have much value. If you find a wheat penny lying around, you might want to take a closer look. You could have a coin worth thousands of dollars right under your nose.
The wheat penny was minted at the Philadelphia Mint and San Francisco Mint from 1909 to 1956. At this time, the coin was mostly made from copper, with steel pennies minted only during World War II. Coins minted at the Philadelphia mint were not marked in any way. The coins from the San Francisco mint were marked with an S.
Nearly 28 million wheat cents were struck in Philadelphia, making them fairly common. However, a version of the coin minted with Victor David Brenner’s initials called the 1909-s VDB, which is extremely rare. Only about a half-million coins were produced with these markings. In 1911, the Denver Mint began production of the wheat penny and a “D” mintmark.
Lincoln Wheat Cent Design
The design of the Lincoln cent came from Victor David Brenner, who emigrated to New York City from Lithuania. He arrived in New York City with very little except skill in gem and seal engraving, a trade his father had taught him.
Brenner proposed a design for a coin that would later be known as the Lincoln coin or Lincoln cent. It featured Abraham Lincoln on one side and two wheat stalks on the other. U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt chose Brenner’s design and ordered it to begin production in 1909 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln birth.
Brenner worked with the Chief Engraver of the U.S. Mint, Charles E. Barber, to finalize the design. There was some modification to Brenner’s design, for example, the words “In God We Trust” over the top of Lincoln’s head by Barber. He believed there was too much open space above Lincoln and insisted on improving the coin’s appearance. In addition to the printed words on the front, the reverse of the coin featured the United States motto, “E Pluribus Unum,” meaning “out of many, one.”
By 1917, circulation was still low for the wheat penny, and the older Indian head pennies were still in the majority.
The coin designed by Victor D. Brenner turned out to be the longest-running design in United States Mint history. Many historians also believe the Brenner designed wheat penny to be the most reproduced piece of art in world history.
Most Valuable Wheat Pennies
1944 Steel Wheat Penny – $500,000
1943 Copper Wheat Penny – $100,000
1914 D Wheat Penny – $10,000
1922 D Wheat Penny – $6,000
1926 Wheat Penny – $4,000
Condition of Valuable Pennies
Now that you’ve found a few Lincoln Wheat Pennies lying around the house, it’s time to find out if they have any value. The first step in evaluating your Lincoln penny value is to inspect the condition of the coin.
The highest valued coins are in excellent condition but don’t give up quite yet if your penny shows a little wear and tear. Good condition or average condition Lincoln wheat cents can still be worth a pretty penny, depending on the rarity of the year produced.
Cleaning a Wheat Penny
Let’s say you uncovered a wheat penny that needs a scrubbing. Rule number one is don’t wipe the dirt off. A valuable wheat penny will scratch easily. One coin expert recommends using a brass brush for cleaning pennies because brass is softer than copper and won’t scratch the surface. You can also soak poor condition wheat pennies in a vinegar solution. Most coin shops sell cleaning products such as Dellar’s Darkener.
Values of wheat pennies vary depending on the year the coin was produced. But one overlooked segment of the collector coin market by newcomers is the error coins. These can sometimes be far more valuable than mint condition coins because of the rarity. As for the wheat pennies, the most valuable errors are the off-metal errors printed in 1943 and 1944 during World War II.
The steel planchets were sometimes struck, creating off-centered coins. A planchet is a blank coin ready to be struck by in the coin press. Some of the 1944 error one-cent coins have sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars at auctions.