One-cent coins or pennies pass through almost every hand in the US, but because of their low face value, not many people bother to give them a closer look. Therefore, you may have unwittingly let go of some precious finds.
Some penny years that are worth keeping are 1793, 1856-1858, 1909, 1914, 1931, 1933, 1939, 1943, 1955, 1969, 1972, 1983, 1992, 1995, and 1999. Numerous factors contribute to their value, including age, rarity, mistakes, and historical significance.
So if you’ve started becoming more mindful of your penny encounters, the list below will help you better understand what to look for. Read on as I explain what makes these penny years special and how much they’re potentially worth for collectors.
The US Mint started minting coins in 1793. The pennies minted at that time were physically larger than modern pennies. The first one-cent coins were over 1.1 inches (28 mm) in diameter, while the modern ones are about 0.75 inches (19 mm).
The large cent has a lot of qualities that make it worth keeping, which contributes to the coin’s overall value.
- Rarity and Age: The first batch of pennies consisted of 11178 units of copper coins. This low mintage of a coin released two centuries ago makes them incredibly hard to come by.
- Purity: The 1793 pennies were made of pure copper, which is rather unusual because modern pennies are made primarily from zinc coated with copper.
- Historical Significance: As mentioned, these pennies were among the first batch minted in the US. Although the minting of the large cent continued for 50 years, the 1793 coin holds a special place in collectors’ hearts due to its historical significance.
Due to the qualities listed above, a 1793 penny can fetch several thousand dollars. Of course, the condition and appearance of the coin can also contribute to the final price, so it’s crucial to keep the coin in excellent condition. I have another article on whether starting a coin collection is worth it: Is Starting a Coin Collection Worth It? How to Decide
2. 1856 to 1858
Between 1856 and 1858, the US Mint produced “white cents” that consisted of less copper than earlier pennies and 12% nickel. The obverse side had a flying eagle, while the reverse featured a wreath below the words “one cent”.
The lighter coloration of this coin compared to the typical copper penny makes it worth collecting. Moreover, its age and unique appearance make it valuable among collectors.
Depending on the condition, circulated coins can range in price from $10 to $500. On the other hand, coins in mint state can reach tens of thousands of dollars.
Before selling your precious finds, be sure to read about what taxes you may incur by selling collectible coins: Are Coin Collections Taxable? The Facts Explained
3. 1909-S VDB
The Lincoln wheat penny series came into circulation in 1909. Its name comes from the design wherein the obverse side has Lincoln’s profile, and the reverse has two wheat ears along either side of the words “one cent”.
Some of the most popular units in the series were minted in San Francisco with the initials VDB at the back, referring to the designer Victor David Brenner. It had the second-lowest mintage with only 484,000 copies.
Then-President Theodore Roosevelt chose Brenner to design the Lincoln cent because of the latter’s earlier bronze relief depicting former president Abraham Lincoln. The image then became the official design on the obverse side of the penny ever since.
Fun Fact: The 1909 wheat penny was the first US coin to feature a real person. It was created to commemorate Lincoln’s 100th birth year.
Graded 1909-S VDB coins can rake in a few hundred dollars. On the other hand, those in mint condition can reach up to a hundred thousand dollars. So if you ever come across one, be sure to handle it with utmost care and have it appraised.
You’ll often hear marketing phrases like “one-of-a-kind” or “limited edition”, and products labeled as such naturally cost so much more than their relatively common and ordinary counterparts. Similarly, rarity is one of the strongest forces behind any collectible’s worth.
The same is true for the 1914 Lincoln penny minted in Denver. Unlike those minted in Philadelphia, which had 75 million copies, the Denver-made coins only had 1.2 million copies.
You can tell the difference because the Denver-made coins have the “D” mark below the year 1914 on the right side of Lincoln’s head. In contrast, those made in Philadelphia don’t have any letter below the year.
The 1914-D penny might be rare, but it doesn’t fetch as much money as the others on this list. Still, those in excellent condition can cost anywhere between a few hundred dollars to less than $4000.
The 1931 pennies were minted in high numbers, but those from San Francisco — designated as 1931-S wheat pennies — had a low mintage with 866000 copies. This triggered coin enthusiasts at that time to hoard the coins as they were released.
As a result, many of these coins were uncirculated and preserved in mint condition. Although some coins made it out into circulation or were sold to private collectors, about 80% remain unaccounted for.
Uncirculated coins can sell for up to $200 apiece, while those with good quality can sell at around $50. The 1931-S coins are currently cheaper than the other pennies on this list. Still, their value is expected to increase because of their scarcity. You may want to hold on to your coins for now and sell them later for higher profits.
The 1933 pennies were minted in average numbers (around 20 million) only in Philadelphia and Denver. However, the 1933-D pennies were less than half those produced in Philadelphia and had a D mark below the year.
Although the 1933-D coins sell relatively cheaply at only around $20 per piece, they’re still a worthy part of any coin collection. These low-value coins often make it to a customized coin frame for display at home.
Another low-value coin worth collecting is the 1939-D penny. Compared to the Philadelphia and San Francisco releases at over 316 million and 52 million, respectively, the Denver issue only had 15 million copies.
Although that number is far from being scarce, the lower mintage compared to the other mints makes the Denver issue worth collecting.
Beginner collectors will also find it easier to find such a coin at an affordable price of only around $10 to $20.
In 1943, in the middle of the Second World War (WWII), copper was considered a valuable metal for weapons. As a result, the government limited its use on other items, including coins.
In view of this, the 1943 issue of pennies were made from steel coated with zinc. They were then unofficially but popularly called the “steel cents“. These silver-colored coins are worth collecting due to their unusual appearance.
It’s worth noting that these coins were of poor quality (i.e., rusting so easily and reacting with magnets), so the US Treasury decided to quit producing them in 1944.
Still, these steel cents are easier for beginners to acquire because they’re sold for around only up 20 cents per piece. You can even buy mint-grade steel cents for less than $5.
Interestingly, 17 units made from copper accidentally got into circulation, making them extremely valuable. One of these rare copper 1943 pennies sold for up to $50000 in 1997, and the price can go so much higher over time.
However, beware of fake 1943 copper coins. Because of their high potential for profit, they’ve also become a suitable target for counterfeiters. Get your coin graded by a professional and purchase only from reputable sellers.
9. 1955-S and 1955 DDO
In 1955, two interesting events happened that contributed to the popularity of the pennies released that year. The first was the minting error in the Philadelphia mint, and the other was the cessation of operations in the San Francisco mint.
Coin collectors value coins not only for their perfect mint condition. There are also a few coins valued mainly for the errors in their production, making them extremely rare and worth collecting.
One such example is the double-died variety of the 1955 pennies minted in Philadelphia. The error occurred due to a misalignment between the coin hub and the die, resulting in the doubling of the words “IN GOD WE TRUST”, “LIBERTY”, and “1955” on the obverse side of the coin.
The number of coins bearing such error that got into circulation was estimated to be around 20000. Selling one today can earn you a few thousand dollars.
Another milestone in the history of coinage in the US is the pause in the operations of the new San Francisco mint in 1955. As a result, most of the 1955-S pennies remained uncirculated due to their collectible potential.
However, due to the large number of coins minted in the branch, these 1955-S pennies are among the most affordable coins collectors can acquire. The price can range from as low as ten cents to only four dollars.
As mentioned above, errors can also make a coin’s value soar. A double die error similar to that in Philadelphia in 1955 occurred in the 1969 pennies minted in San Francisco.
One difference is that there are only less than a hundred pieces of 1969-S double-die pennies in existence. In addition, the reverse side of the 1969 coin featured the Lincoln Memorial, which first appeared on the penny in 1959, replacing the wheat ears.
This rarity requires collectors to shell out up to a few hundred thousand dollars to acquire a highly graded piece. However, heavily circulated coins in poor condition will likely sell much lower. Still, don’t be surprised if an avid collector offers to pay four digits for one.
So if you have 1969 pennies in your stash, grab a magnifying glass and inspect the double-die error on the words “IN GOD WE TRUST” and “LIBERTY”. The errors are not as easy to spot as in the 1955 coin, but they can fetch a significantly larger sum when they do exist.
11. 1972 DDO
In 1972, the US Treasury released almost 6 billion pieces of Lincoln Memorial pennies. This high mintage number should have easily made this year uninteresting.
However, around 20000 pieces from the Philadelphia mint had striking double-die mistakes, which was apparent on the obverse side of the coin.
Error-free 1972 pennies are typically only worth around 30 cents. In contrast, double-die pennies can sell anywhere from $600 to a few thousand dollars, depending on the coin’s condition.
The highest value was placed on coins with distinct double-die errors on all three sections: “IN GOD WE TRUST”, “LIBERTY”, and “1972”.
12. 1983 DDR
Another minting error that fascinates coin enthusiasts is the double die appearance on the reverse side of the 1983 Lincoln Memorial penny. This is a welcome change from the common mistake on the coin’s obverse side.
The error is visible in the larger words “UNITED” and “ONE CENT”. However, you might need a magnifying glass to clearly see it in the smaller “E PLURIBUS UNUM” above the Lincoln Memorial.
There’s no clear information about how many double-died coins entered circulation. But they should be pretty hard to find due to the high mintage number of 1983 pennies at over 14 billion pieces from Philadelphia and Denver combined.
Still, if you’re lucky enough to come across a double-died one, avoid washing it in water. Since 1982, the Lincoln pennies have been made with 97.5% zinc and only 2.5% copper. Improper washing and exposure to various chemicals may tarnish or corrode the metals.
Keep the coin in its current state and have it graded by a professional. Some coins with Mint State over 65 (MS65+) can sell for several thousand dollars. One reported coin even sold for $7000.
As they sell from one collector to another, their prices will undoubtedly keep on increasing.
13. 1992 Close AM
The 1992 Lincoln Memorial pennies were also minted in billions in Philadelphia and Denver.
Considering the large number of coins, some dies were worn, resulting in flaws, such as cracks and weak pressing of the design on the metal. These errors are less valuable than double-die errors. Some collectors might even associate them with the natural wear and tear of the coin.
However, one flaw in the coin that can help you rake in five-digit profits is popularly known as the close AM error.
You’ll see the print “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA” on the top of the reverse side of the coin. There should be a tiny gap between the letters under normal conditions. However, the rare 1992 penny has the legs of A and M in AMERICA touching.
It might seem like a minor detail, but it can earn you a large sum of money. Look out for such pennies because you might just come across one. Some people have come out claiming to have one, but there must still be plenty out there that remain unaccounted for.
As the minting technology evolved, fewer double-die mistakes were seen in coins. So it came as a surprise that some 1995 coins had the error. It was easy to spot the mistake in the word “LIBERTY” and less conspicuously in the year “1995”.
At first, the double-die coins fetched around $300. However, the number of people coming out with such a coin increased, reducing its value to only about $10 per piece.
Still, this 1995 double-die coin is worth collecting for coin enthusiasts. Some of them are available on various online auction sites like eBay. Be sure to check the reviews regarding the reliability of the seller to avoid purchasing counterfeit coins.
With the increasing number of coin collectors, the demand for the 1995 double-die coins might just pick up and earn you a profit.
15. 1999 Wide AM
In 1999, Lincoln pennies made for circulation typically had a close AM in the word AMERICA on the reverse side with the legs of the letters almost touching each other.
However, some coins containing a mint error with an unusually wide AM made it into circulation. The error occurred because the reverse die supposedly used for the proof strike was used on the coins for circulation (also known as business strike).
The mix-up resulted in scarce and precious 1999 Lincoln pennies. Many people didn’t notice this or realize the value of the coin because it’s the exact opposite of the valuable 1992 pennies, where those with close AM were considered more valuable.
Luckily, it’s not yet too late to find these coins and potentially sell them for a significant amount. An eager coin collector will likely pay $100 for a wide AM 1999 penny in good condition. On the other hand, those with Mint State above 65 are likely to fetch a few thousand dollars.