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What are Wheat Pennies?

Wheat Pennies, minted from 1909 to 1958, are a nostalgic piece of Americana. These coins, distinguished by their iconic wheat stalk engravings, are a treasure for collectors and historians alike, offering a glimpse into a bygone era of American currency. Discover their unique history and enduring legacy—what secrets might your old penny jar hold? Continue exploring with us.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Wheat pennies are American 1 cent coins produced between 1909 and 1958. The “wheat” is a reference to the stylized sheaves of wheat that decorate the back of this series of coinage. These coins may also be referred to as wheatbacks, wheaties, or Lincoln wheat pennies. Prior to their introduction, the United States Mint produced the Indian head penny, marked with the head of a Native American brave on the front and a wreath or laurel or oak, depending on the year, on the back. In 1959, the wheat design was replaced with an engraving of the Lincoln Memorial.

The design of the penny was created by Victor David Brenner, a sculptor from New York. It features the head of President Abraham Lincoln looking to the right on the front, with “In God We Trust” over Lincoln's head, the date of minting on the right, and “Liberty” on the left. On the back, two stalks of wheat cross at the bottom, wrapping up the sides of the coin to frame the words “ONE CENT,” with “e pluribus unum,” the motto of the United States, running across the top of the coin. Smaller lettering reading “United States of America” can be found just below the “ONE CENT” designation.

Wheat pennies have also been referred to as "wheaties."
Wheat pennies have also been referred to as "wheaties."

Several series of wheat pennies were remarkable, making them valuable to collectors. The most valuable are the copper alloy pennies produced in 1943. Since pennies are, as a general rule, made from copper alloy, some people are surprised to learn this. In fact, the 1943 coins were made from zinc-coated steel, because copper was a valuable wartime commodity. The estimated 10 copper alloy coins produced by accident, therefore, are extremely valuable.

Abraham Lincoln is featured on wheat pennies.
Abraham Lincoln is featured on wheat pennies.

Coins from 1909 with a stamp reading “VDB,” for the designer, under the stalks of wheat are also valuable, as are 1974 pennies made from aluminum. These coins were produced as a test by the Mint, and never circulated, but a few can be found around on occasion. In 1955, a die error produced a series of double-stamped coins that are also sought after by collectors.

Incidentally, the US Mint does not refer to a 1 cent coin as a “penny.” The proper term is, in fact, “cent,” although the Mint has largely given up on trying to convince people to refer to the coin in this way, wheat or not.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are wheat pennies and why are they called that?

Wheat pennies, officially known as Lincoln Wheat Ear cents, are a series of U.S. one-cent coins produced from 1909 to 1958. They are called "wheat pennies" because the reverse (back) side of the coin features two stalks of wheat, symbolizing prosperity and abundance. This design was a departure from the previous Indian Head cent and marked the centennial of Abraham Lincoln's birth, with his portrait on the obverse (front).

How much are wheat pennies worth?

The value of wheat pennies varies widely, depending on their condition, rarity, and the year they were minted. Common wheat pennies in circulated condition might only be worth a few cents over their face value, while key dates and mintmarks, such as the 1909-S VDB or the 1914-D, can be worth hundreds or even thousands of dollars. According to the Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS), a 1909-S VDB in mint condition can be worth over $5,000.

What makes some wheat pennies more valuable than others?

Several factors contribute to the value of wheat pennies. Rarity is a significant factor; coins with low mintage numbers, like the 1909-S VDB, are highly sought after. Condition is also crucial; coins in uncirculated or mint condition fetch higher prices. Additionally, certain mint errors, such as double dies or off-center strikes, can increase a penny's value. Collectors often pay a premium for these unique and rare characteristics.

How can I tell if my wheat penny is valuable?

To determine if your wheat penny is valuable, start by examining the date and mintmark, located below the date on the obverse side. Look for key dates known for their rarity. Next, assess the coin's condition; coins with little to no wear are more valuable. For an accurate valuation, consider consulting a reputable coin dealer or submitting your coin to a professional grading service like PCGS or the Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (NGC).

Where can I find wheat pennies today?

Wheat pennies can still be found in circulation, though they are becoming increasingly rare. Coin collectors and enthusiasts often discover them in old collections, estate sales, or by purchasing rolls of pennies from banks and searching through them. Coin shops, online auctions, and coin shows are also popular places to find wheat pennies for those looking to add to their collections or find specific dates and mintmarks.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a UnitedStatesNow researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Learn more...
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a UnitedStatesNow researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Learn more...

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Discussion Comments

jmc88
I love collecting wheat pennies! My grandparents had a few that they gave to me when I was growing up, and ever since then I've just gradually collected more and more.

Regardless of their value, I just find them to be an interesting part of history.

JimmyT

@titans62 - I agree, pennies are usually not worth very much whatsoever.

I have an indian head penny from 1899 and even as old as the penny is and the fact that it is in near mint condition, it is worth a grand total almost two dollars.

As an avid coin collector, I can say that the reason why the market for pennies is not very good is because of the simple facts that the pennies are only worth one cent as currency, the copper is not as valuable as other coins, and pennies were produced a lot more than other coins, such as nickels, dimes, and quarters.

titans62
@bagley79 - Wheat pennies aren't really worth a whole lot, and are probably worth more just for the copper than the actually value of the coin.

A lot of people believe that only wheat pennies were made of copper, but this could not be further from the truth.

Prior to 1982 all pennies were made of 95 percent copper and they were, in effect, more valuable as a scrap than as currency.

That being said, there were a lot of people that were attempting to melt down pennies for scrap and extra cash, once inflation got high enough that a penny's composition was worth more than as the one cent of currency.

bagley79

I find it interesting that many pennies were made of copper and are different than the other coins we have.

What is the value of wheat pennies if they weren't made in 1943? Are these valuable enough that it would be worth keeping your eye out for them?

golf07

My mom used to collect wheat pennies and I can still see her sitting at the table going through her coin collection and her prized wheat pennies.

I don't know what ever happened to her collection and wonder if she had any of the rare wheat pennies. She always thought they were worth something, but you sure don't hear much about them today.

Every once in awhile I will notice a wheat penny, but I don't usually set it aside. It ends up getting lost in the shuffle with all the other coins.

truman12
Why did the mint stop making wheat pennies? I have always preferred that design to the penny that we use now.
ZsaZsa56

I used to have a collection of wheat pennies when I was a kid. I had probably 30 or 40. I didn't look for them all that closely but if I noticed one in my change I would set it aside.

Back then I was a fiend for collections. I collected coins, stamps, rocks, bugs, army men, you name it. If I could get my hands on 5 of something I would try to get 15 more. I grew out of that instinct eventually, but as a kid it consumed me

anon138405

isn't the motto of the united states "In god we trust"?

anon61952

The "front"? The "back"? Anyone who knows anything about coins uses the correct terminology: obverse and reverse.

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    • Wheat pennies have also been referred to as "wheaties."
      By: Matthias Shapiro
      Wheat pennies have also been referred to as "wheaties."
    • Abraham Lincoln is featured on wheat pennies.
      By: olavs
      Abraham Lincoln is featured on wheat pennies.