Coin of the Month: Lincoln Cent

Abraham Lincoln was born in 1809. He was our country’s 16th president, serving from March 1861 until his assassination in April 1865. He led the U.S. through its Civil War and consequently preserved the Union, ended slavery, and empowered the federal government and the economy. The Lincoln cent bearing his image has a history almost as colorful and dramatic as the president’s, making them among the most popular U.S. coins for collectors.

Best of all, most are affordable for a child-size budget!

Lincoln Penny History

In 1865, President Lincoln was assassinated in Washington D.C. The U.S. Mint hired Litvak-American sculptor, engraver, and medalist Victor David Brenner to design a cent depicting the late president in 1909—the centennial year of Lincoln’s birth. Brenner created the Lincoln Wheat cent/penny, which was in circulation from 1909 to 1958. The obverse (“heads” side of the coin) has Lincoln’s image and the reverse (“tails” side of the coin) has wheat sheaves and reads “One Cent, United States of American.” Today, the 1909 Wheat penny is worth $4 to $26.50, depending on condition.

The Lincoln cent had a change of coin metals at the time of World War II. The U.S. was fighting Japan and Europe in the war, and our government decided all the available copper and tin was needed to make war munitions. In 1942, the U.S. Mint removed all but a tiny trace of tin out of the cent alloy, which changed the metal to brass. The Mint had a supply of bronze coining strip, so that was used in the creation of 1942 Lincoln cents as well. A 1942 Wheat penny is valued somewhere around 35 cents, while one in “perfect” condition can bring $4, reports CoinTrackers.

In 1943, Lincoln cents were made out of zinc plated steel. This change resulted in a coin that was shiny silver. The fact that people often mistook it for a dime made it very unpopular. The Mint decided in 1944 it had to resume making copper and bronze Lincoln cents, but some old steel blanks got minted, too, by mistake. You can buy a 1944 steel Lincoln Wheat penny for around $22.95.

Postwar Lincoln pennies were made from melted bullets. Spent shell casings had made their way to the Mint, which contributed to the brass coining alloy used for Lincoln cents in 1944 through 1946.

No history of the Lincoln penny would be complete without mentioning the famous 1955 Doubled Die Penny. The unusual minting error occurred when a coin die received two separate impressions stamped into it. The result: an estimated 20,000 to 24,000 coins had extreme doubling. A 1955 doubled die obverse has a retail price today starting at around $1,000.

Lincoln Wheat pennies were manufactured at three different mints:

  1. Philadelphia (coins have no mint mark)
  2. Denver (mint mark “D”)
  3. San Francisco (mint mark “S”)

You can find out where the penny was minted by looking for the mint mark. It is located on the obverse of the coin, beneath the date.

Lincoln’s image has been displayed on the obverse side of the penny for 105 years of minting, but different images have been used on the reverse side of the coin over the years. Today, the penny’s reverse has the image of a Union shield.

Lincoln Pennies Are a Good Investment

A Lincoln penny 1958 or older is worth at least 3 cents, making it an ideal coin for a kid’s collection. Immediate return on investment is a good thing!

There are Lincoln cents worth a lot of money. The 1914 D penny is the most valuable of the non-error wheat pennies. It is worth $281 to $4,268!

Use this chart to find out the value of your Lincoln cent. The chart shows what you can expect a dealer to pay you for your penny.

If your Lincoln cent shows evidence of wear due to use, it is considered “circulated.” If it was never used, then it is called “uncirculated.” It’s okay if pennies are dirty and worn. Some pennies are very valuable even in worn condition. Don’t clean your coins thinking it will increase the value—it actually decreases the value.

Read about coin care and storage to preserve your investment for years to come, and learn more about general copper bullion investments too!