PCGS Specials

HomeUS CoinsLincoln Wheat Cent, 1909-1958 | CoinWeek

Lincoln Wheat Cent, 1909-1958 | CoinWeek

Lincoln Wheat Cents. Image: Adobe Stock / CoinWeek.
Lincoln Wheat Cents. Image: Adobe Stock / CoinWeek.

By Charles Morgan and Hubert Walker for CoinWeek Notes ….
 

The Lincoln Wheat Cent – A Coin Collecting Classic

The Lincoln Wheat cent has been a favorite of collectors for many years. Part of the appeal is the fact that it is first circulating U.S. coin to feature the likeness of a real person – that person being the 16th President of the United States Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865), one of the most respected and admired leaders in this country’s history. The Lincoln cent was first issued during the centenary of his birth.

Another part of the appeal of the Wheat cent is that, with few exceptions, millions of them were issued each year. Combined with the coin’s low face value, this makes the Lincoln Wheat cent a type that nearly everyone is able to collect, no matter the age or budget.

Nevertheless, the series contains enough rarities and varieties to hold the interest of the serious numismatist. And arguably more than any other coin, the Lincoln cent is one of the few coin types whose rarities have become well known even by those who are not collectors. Many who don’t know or don’t care about the difference between, for example, the Draped Bust and Capped Bust Large Cents nonetheless have probably heard of the 1909-S VDB and the 1955 Doubled Die Obverse ‘pennies’, and may even know about the 1943 copper cent or the 1960 Large Date and Small Date varieties.

The first year of the design includes the VDB varieties that prominently display the initials of the designer, Victor D. Brenner, on the reverse, something that caused controversy at the time even though designers had previously placed their initials on U.S. coins. Because Brenner’s initials were subsequently removed (and then reinstated in a less conspicuous location on the obverse in 1918), the 1909 VDB and 1909-S VDB cents are considered a separate type.

Lincoln Wheat cents were made of bronze most years, with a couple of variations during the years of World War II. Because copper was a critical war material, cents in 1943 were produced on zinc-coated steel planchets. That event resulted in the inadvertent creation of two Lincoln cent rarities: copper cents dated 1943, and steel cents dated 1944. From 1944 through 1946, Wheat cents were produced from reused shell cases, whose bronze composition was nearly identical to the original issues (minus the tin).

Millions of business strike Wheat cents were produced almost every year, useful in commerce at the time (and for entertainment in the often colorfully-named penny arcades) but today often relegated to “help yourself if needed” cent boxes near cash registers. Collector interest in the type grew more slowly, not taking off until the low-mintage 1931-S was extensively publicized, along with the advent of coin boards in the early 1930s.

Tens of thousands of business strike cents are listed in PCGS and NGC census/population reports, categorized by color definition (BN, RB, and RD, for Brown, Red-Brown, and Red), with many in Mint States grades of MS60 and finer. Prices are modest for most issues up to and including Premium Gem, and for some dates to Superb Gem. Coins with the Red-Brown or Red designations command significant premiums for cents produced through the mid-1930s, with Red cents often very expensive or extremely expensive. From the mid-1930s forward, most certified Wheat cents have been classified as Red. Higher-priced issues include the 1914-D, the 1917 Doubled Die Obverse, the 1922 No D, the 1936 Doubled Die Obverse, the 1955 Doubled Die Obverse, the 1958 Doubled Die Obverse, and many pre-1936 Red-designated cents graded MS65 and finer.

Both World War I and World War II affected the production of Lincoln cent Proofs. Those struck from 1909 through 1916 have a Matte or Satin finish, but production ended near the start of the “Great War”. When production resumed in 1936, both Satin and Brilliant finish Proof cents were minted, but thereafter Proofs were brilliant finish only until production ended again with the 1942 issue. No cent Proofs were made during and immediately after the WWII years, from 1943 through 1949.

Thousands of Proof Wheat cents have been certified, many as Cameo and Deep Cameo, though fewer with the 1936 and earlier Matte or Satin finish. Prices are modest for most issues even as Superb Gem, though Red and Deep Cameo coins are often very expensive. Proofs minted in 1936 and earlier are generally more expensive than those produced after 1936.

In-Depth Wheat Cent Date Analysis by CoinWeek Notes

1909-S VDB Lincoln Cent Market Analysis. Image: CoinWeek.
1909-S VDB Lincoln Cent Market Analysis. Image: CoinWeek.

CoinWeek analyzed the market for the 1909-S VDB Lincoln cent and noted strong growth for this coin over the past five years.

The 1914-D Lincoln Cent was produced in low numbers. Few were saved in Mint State, making this one of the toughest dates to collect in the entire series.

Design

A right-facing Abraham Lincoln occupies most of the obverse. At the top, inside a raised rim and above Lincoln’s head is IN GOD WE TRUST, the first appearance of that motto on the cent. To the left of the portrait is LIBERTY, and to the right and slightly lower is the date. Lincoln Wheat cents were minted at Philadelphia, Denver, and San Francisco; D and S mint marks appear below the date. Cents produced for 1918 and subsequent years have the designer’s initials VDB on the bottom bevel of Lincoln’s shoulder.

The reverse has a prominent display of the denomination ONE CENT at the top center, each word on a separate line, and below that UNITED STATES OF AMERICA in two lines. E PLURIBUS UNUM, with a center dot between the words, arcs along the top inside a raised rim. To both the left and the right of the center text, and curved to follow the rim, are stylized images of the seed head of wheat, called “wheat ears” by many, and the source for the type name.

The edge of all Lincoln cents is plain, or smooth.

Lincoln Wheat Cent Varieties

A sampling of the known varieties of the Wheat cent include the 1909-S, S Over Horizontal S; the 1917 Doubled Die Obverse; the 1922 No D and Weak D (from either a filled die or an excessively polished die as Philadelphia did not produce cents in 1922); the 1936 Doubled Die Obverse; the 1943 bronze and 1944 steel off-metal rarities; the 1944-D, D Over S; the 1946-S, S Over D; the 1955 Doubled Die Obverse; the 1956-D, D Above Shadow D; and the 1958 Doubled Die Obverse. Many other varieties exist.

Specifications

Lincoln Wheat Cent
Years of Issue: 1909-58
Mintage (Circulation): High: 1,435,400,000 (1944); Low: 866,000 (1931-S)
Mintage (Proof): High: 1,247,952 (1957); Low: 600 (1916)
Alloy: 95% copper, 5% tin and zinc (1909-42 and 1947-58); zinc-coated steel (1943); 95% copper, 5% zinc (1944-46)
Weight: 3.11 g (1909-42 and 1944-58); 2.70 g (1943)
Diameter: 19.00 mm
Edge: Plain
OBV Designer: Victor D. Brenner
REV Designer: Victor D. Brenner

 

* * *

References

Bowers, Q. David. The Experts Guide to Collecting & Investing in Rare Coins. Whitman Publishing.

–. A Guide Book of Lincoln Cents. Whitman Publishing.

–. A Guide Book of United States Type Coins. Whitman Publishing.

Breen, Walter. Walter Breen’s Encyclopedia of U.S. Coins. Doubleday.

Guth, Ron and Jeff Garrett. United States Coinage: A Study by Type. Whitman Publishing.

Lange, David W. The Complete Guide to Lincoln Cents. Zyrus Press.

–. Coin Collecting Boards of the 1930s and 1940s. Pennyboard Press.

Taxay, Don. The U.S. Mint and Coinage. Arco Publishing.

Yeoman, R.S. and Kenneth Bressett (editor). The Official Red Book: A Guide Book of United States Coins. Whitman Publishing.

* * *

CoinWeek Notes
CoinWeek Notes
CoinWeek Notes presents expert analysis and insights from Charles Morgan and Hubert Walker, the award-winning editors of CoinWeek.com.

Related Articles

30 COMMENTS

    • @Ric Reynolds Lincoln cents are often modified by private firms to make novelty pieces or giveaways. These are considered to be altered items with not additional numismatic value.

  1. It was the Lincoln Cent that really started a national trend of saving cents by date and mintmark. For my school days in the 1950 s, I cannot think of a student or classmate who did not collect coins or knew someone who collected coins.

  2. I have some pennies dating from 1940- 1979 some with marking and some without. I also have some 1990 – 1992. I also have a 1940 nickle, quarter with 3 sets of initials and there r a few Queen Elizabeth 11 1969,1977 and one 1979 pennies.

  3. Very interesting. My son’s are more knowledgeable than I am and have some rare ones. One needs to be sent off but can’t afford to have it appraised. Thank you.

  4. Interesting information about wheat pennies, how about the rarity and the value of?
    Is there really a market value if someone has coin from as far back as 1900’s?

  5. My name is Lisa I have 1940 wheat penny and 1950 all the way up to 1959 wheat pennies and having nickel 1946 I don’t know how much they go for I wanted to appraise them

  6. I have a coin that has a Lincoln head on one side and a dime on the other side. In my mind, based on displacement, there is no way the coins could have been “glued” together.
    Fused maybe? Mistake in printing?

    • @Rocket What you’re describing is called a magician’s coin, a novelty item made by carefully cutting apart two different coins, then swapping and fusing the sides. They sell for a few dollars in gift and novelty shops.

      There almost certainly is a seam, but precision machining makes it almost impossible to detect without magnification. It’s very unlikely to be a minting (as opposed to “printing”) error.

    • @Eric Jones As the story notes, wheat cent production began in 1909. If the cent is dated 1908 it would be an Indian Head cent. The value depends on whether it has a small “S” mint mark on the back. Without a mint mark it’s worth a dollar or two in average condition. If it does have an “S” mint mark, it would have to be examined in person to determine its value.

  7. I have 1800 ang 1900 wheat pennies all thru 1960 alot of them how do I clean them and where do I get the. Appraisal I don’t trust many coin dealers.

    • @William Arvin The first rule of cleaning coins is DON’T DO IT. Unless done with professional methods, cleaning damages a coin’s surface and reduces its value.

      As the article notes wheat cents were minted from 1909 to 1958 so any cents dated 1800, 1900, or 1960 would be different varieties – a Large cent, an Indian Head cent, and a Lincoln Memorial cent to be specific. If you won’t take them to a dealer to be evaluated, you might try going to a local coin club to see if any experienced collectors could help. While there are many online sites giving values, it’s difficult for an inexperienced collector to know which are accurate and which aren’t. In particular stay away from general auction sites because they’re not carefully monitored for accuracy.

      P.S. I think you mean “a lot”. Two words, not one. Hope that helps!

    • @Ray Martinez The US never made silver cents. Among other things they’d be worth more than dimes due to their size. But as the article notes, *1943* cents were struck in zinc-plated steel due to wartime metal shortages. If the zinc isn’t badly oxidized these coins have a somewhat silvery appearance; I suspect you have a coin with that date that may have slight damage making the ending “3” look like a “5”.

      Over a billion steel cents were struck in 1943 and many were saved as curiosities. In average condition they retail for 25¢ to a dollar.

    • @Latisha Please check the other coins in your pocket change. ALL US coins are minted with the obverse and reverse oriented 180º opposite to each other so yes this is normal.

  8. Hello .just happen to be browsing in my phone.been looking for something like this.i have a 1918 wheat penny.1925wheat penny.1958.1955.1956.all wheat.can you tell me what they worth.and who do I sell them to.thank you.

  9. The Lincoln Cent… first depiction of the Executive of the country would never have come about if not for one trailblazing President… Theodore Roosevelt.
    Teddy Roosevelt’s vision may have started as a young boy holding a Large Cent buying some Licorice, maybe Tweezlers, at Macys department store. This is possibly where the story of the Wheat Cent should begin.

  10. I have a 1909 wheat penny but I don’t know if it is a vdb because it’s in a piece of jewelry that my father in law gave me when I was 17 years old and you can’t see the whole back..I am almost 65 now. What is it worth please email me to let me know.Thank you.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Great Collection Coin Auctions

AU Capital Management US gold Coins

Blanchard and Company Gold and Precious Metals