You've probably seen the oldest Lincoln pennies, the ones sometimes called wheaties, with the two sheafs of wheat on the back. Although they have a face value of only one cent, the most valuable wheat pennies can actually be worth thousands of dollars.
Knowing how to spot a valuable wheat penny is way easier if you know which is worth the most, and what makes them so valuable. These pennies were made from 1909 until 1958, so there are a lot of them. Although they aren't all super valuable, they are often your best bet if you're looking for Lincoln pennies worth money. From minting errors to coins that are just plain rare, there are a few qualities to keep an eye out for as you sort through your spare change.
List of the Most Valuable Wheat Pennies
If you have an old coin collection or a jar of pennies you inherited or found at a flea market, grab your magnifying glass. This quick reference list will help you spot the treasures among these one-cent coins.
|1943-D bronze cent
|1943-S bronze cent
|1943 (Philadelphia) bronze cent
|1944-D steel cent
|1909-S VDB Lincoln cent
|1914 Lincoln cent
|1922 No D strong reverse
|1921 Lincoln cent
|1925-S Lincoln cent
|1915-S Lincoln cent
1943-D Bronze Cent
The most valuable wheat penny is the 1943-D struck on bronze at the Denver Mint. The thing that's interesting about 1943 pennies is that most of them were made of steel. World War II was raging, and copper was needed for the war effort. The 1943 steel penny is still pretty valuable (sometimes worth $1,000 or more), but it's the pennies accidentally struck on bronze that are worth the most. The only one known to exist from the Denver Mint sold for $840,000 in 2021.
1943-S Bronze Cent
The story of that minting mistake with the 1943 penny doesn't end at the Denver Mint. In fact, there were similar minting errors in San Francisco and Philadelphia when bronze planchets (coin blanks, in regular English) got stuck in the tote bins for the coin presses. Workers didn't notice the coins, and the most valuable wheat pennies entered circulation. There are only six known to have been minted in San Francisco, and one in excellent condition sold for $504,000 in 2020.
1943 (Philadelphia) Bronze Cent
Basically, any time you see a 1943 penny, it's absolutely worth a second look. If it's bronze or copper colored, you're probably holding something that's worth a fortune. 1943 wheat pennies that don't have a mint letter were made in Philadelphia, where they also had the minting error with the bronze planchets. Collectors estimate around 20 of these coins exist today. One in excellent condition sold for $372,000 in 2021.
1944-D Steel Cent
You know how there were mistakes made in the switch from copper to steel wheat pennies in 1943? Well, the country switched to pennies made from recycled shell case alloy in 1944, and the same mistake happened again. Fewer than 10 1944-D steel wheat pennies exist, and one in beautiful condition sold for $115,000 in 2007.
1909-S VDB Lincoln Cent
The Lincoln penny was first minted in 1909, and the designer's initials (Victor David Brenner, or VDB) were included in the earliest design. When Treasury Department officials saw the minted pennies with the initials, they were displeased and tried to withdraw the coins from circulation. About 484,000 were struck at the San Francisco Mint, and very few of those stayed in circulation. Those that did tend to be worn, but one in near mint condition sold for $92,000 in 2005.
1914 Wheat Penny
The 1914 Lincoln penny is something collectors actively search for, and they are up to 1000 times rarer than a penny from today. In general, the 1914-D is actually rarer than the 1914-S, but condition is a major factor in value. The 1914-S is hard to find in nearly uncirculated condition, so if you do find one, it might be worth more than the rarer 1914-D. A 1914-S wheat penny in excellent condition sold for over $83,000 in 2008.
1922 No D Strong Reverse
Sometimes, a coin is stamped harder on one side than the other, or the dies that create the design can be worn unevenly. While this isn't technically a minting error, it does make the coin unique and often more valuable. The 1922 No D doesn't have the D for the Denver Mint, despite being struck there. The wheat side of the penny, or the reverse, has a stronger stamp than the front side with Lincoln's portrait. In good condition, these can be very valuable. One sold in 2014 for over $67,000.
1921 Lincoln Cent
Although the 1921 wheat penny isn't the rarest, it's very hard to come by in perfect condition. Only two are rated "superb," and they're worth a small fortune. One sold for over $55,000 in 2005.
1925-S Wheat Penny
Many of the 1925 pennies from the San Francisco Mint were poorly produced, and those that were clear and crisp lost their crispness in circulation. It's very rare to find one in near mint condition, especially one that is clear and has good details. One in such shape sold for over $54,000 in 2005.
1915-S Wheat Penny
Just like the 1925 version, the 1915 Lincoln cent from the San Francisco Mint generally lacked clarity and crispness. Finding one that wasn't circulated and is well defined is very rare, and they go for a premium. One sold for over $48,000 in 2005.
How to Spot a Wheat Penny Worth Money
The most valuable wheat pennies might not be in your everyday pocket change, but there are a few things to look for if you're keeping an eye out for treasure:
- Early dates - Many of the wheaties worth the most money are those from the earliest years the coin was minted.
- World War II years (1941-1945) - Pennies made during World War II can be valuable, especially if they are in a different metal than was the norm for that year.
- Errors - If a penny has something weird about it, like double-stamped words or numbers, it's likely to be worth something.
- Great condition - A penny with sharp, fine details and crisp edges is worth more than one that's lost detail due to circulation.
Look at the Details on Wheat Pennies
Wheat pennies are always going to be rarer than more contemporary designs. Some aren't considered super rare in circulated form but are really hard to find in good condition, and these are some of the most valuable wheat pennies collectors look for. Take your time looking at the details to see if you might have something really special in that handful of spare change.
You should also check your change for rare Indian head pennies.