Pennies Worth Money

Posted on 5/19/2023

Not all one-cent coins are created equal. Here's a guide to the most valuable pennies ever produced.

Although pennies are most often thought to be worth very little, some one-cent coins from throughout history are worth a small fortune. While most modern pennies are only worth their one-cent denomination, some rare pennies can be worth thousands of dollars, and in some cases, hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The minting of US pennies has come to an end for various reasons, but the one-cent denomination will always be a coin collecting favorite. The next time you find a penny on the ground, you might think twice before passing it by since you never know what its true value could be. This guide takes a closer look at pennies worth big money, including 15 of the most valuable pennies ever produced.

A Short History of the US Penny

The United States one-cent coin, most often referred to as a penny, has been a cornerstone of American currency for almost 250 years. Originally minted in 1787, Benjamin Franklin is widely believed to be responsible for the design of the first American penny, which was known as the Fugio cent. Due to the Founding Father's involvement with the coin, it is also referred to as the Franklin cent.

A few years later, in 1793, the United States created a half-cent denomination. The coin would be the lowest unit of physical currency in the US until it was abolished in 1857. Ever since, the one-cent coin has been the nation's lowest denomination.

While there have been numerous variations of the penny since its creation, it mainly has been minted as a copper or copper-plated coin throughout its existence. Of course, the penny as most Americans know it has featured the image of President Abraham Lincoln since it was introduced in 1909.

The one-cent coin has a long and storied history; however, in recent years it has become nearly obsolete. Pennies have lost almost all of their purchasing power in modern times due to inflation, rising production costs and the burden they impose on banks, businesses and the general public.

The 10 Most Valuable Lincoln Pennies in US History

There are many variations of the US penny but some of the rarer examples command huge prices at auction. Many of the most valuable pennies date back to the early days of our nation, with others from the 20th century featuring Lincoln's portrait commanding top dollar as well. Here is a list of the rarest and most valuable Lincoln pennies known to exist:

1) 1943-D Lincoln Bronze Cent ($1,700,000)

1943-D Lincoln Bronze Cent from NGC Coin Explorer
Click images to enlarge.

This particular example of a US one-cent coin is the holy grail of all rare and valuable Lincoln pennies. The 1943-D Lincoln Bronze Penny was never fully circulated since it was produced by mistake during the minting process. The US was transitioning from bronze-alloyed pennies to zinc-plated steel pennies in the early 1940s. However, a handful of the bronze coins slipped through the cracks as the new pennies were struck.

It is believed that only around 20 bronze 1943-D pennies were released from each of the San Francisco and Philadelphia Mints. Even more scarce, the Denver Mint allegedly only produced one bronze 1943-D penny, which makes it the rarest known one-cent coin across the globe.

Considering the Denver example is one-of-a-kind; it is no surprise that this coin was the most expensive penny ever sold when it went to auction in 2010. In fact, the Lincoln penny shattered previous records at the time in a private sale that took place in September 2010, when it sold for $1.7 million through Legend Numismatics.

2) 1944-S Lincoln Steel Cent ($373,750)

Like many of the rarest pennies in circulation, the 1944-S Lincoln Steel Penny is another one-cent coin struck in error. In 1944, Lincoln pennies were supposed to be minted using the original bronze alloy, which consisted of 95% copper and 5% tin. Yet, two zinc-plated steel planchets were used in the San Francisco Mint before they caught the mistake. Only a handful were produced, making it scarce and therefore one of the most valuable pennies around.

A high-grade example of the 1944-S Lincoln Steel Penny graded NGC MS 66 went to auction in August 2008. The example was in uncirculated condition, was well-preserved and well-struck during the minting process. The exceptional coin sold through Heritage Auctions for $373,750, making this one of the most expensive coins ever struck.

3) 1958 Lincoln Cent – Doubled Die Obverse ($336,000)

While low mintage numbers are often the reason why these pennies have made the "Pennies Worth Money" list, the die variety also contributes heavily to the desirability of the 1958 Doubled Die Obverse Lincoln Penny. Compared to a similar die variety penny in the 1955 Doubled Die Lincoln Cent, which is numbered in the thousands, there are only three known to exist of the 1958 example.

It is a mystery as to how three examples in Mint State Red condition ever exited the US Mint in Philadelphia. One theory is that a mint employee smuggled the few coins out of the Mint, but there is no concrete evidence of such a claim.

Due to the rarity of the pennies and their die varieties, the 1958 Doubled Die Obverse Lincoln Penny is prized by numismatic collectors to this day. That was once again evident when one of the three coins that was in superb condition was included in a Stack's Bowers sale a few years back. In March 2018, the auction set a record for its type when the Lincoln penny sold for $336,000.

4) 1943-S Lincoln Cent – Struck on Bronze ($282,000)

This 1943-S Lincoln Cent is another error coin struck on a bronze planchet instead of a zinc-plated steel planchet. The 1943-S Lincoln Cent Struck on Bronze is extremely rare, especially considering there are only six known examples of the penny that were produced at the San Francisco Mint that year.

Although this was another error coin, they are believed to have made it into circulation through normal coinage distribution due to their condition. Higher graded coins are often suspected to have made their way into the public's hands by mint employees.

With only six pieces in existence, the 1943-S Lincoln Penny is a very rare and very valuable one-cent coin. In fact, in February 2016, one example realized $282,000 when it sold in a Heritage Auctions sale.

5) 1909 VDB Matte Proof Lincoln Cent ($258,500)

1909 VDB Matte Proof Lincoln Cent from NGC Coin Explorer
Click images to enlarge.

This is another interesting and very valuable penny since production was halted and one element of the coin was removed before continuing production. The 1909 VDB Matte Proof Lincon Penny was the first time any president adorned US coinage, with Abraham Lincoln's portraitsd used as the obverse's image. Designer Victor David Brenner included all three of his initials on the bottom of the reverse side of the coin before the Treasury Department decided that his initials must be removed from the pennies.

Therefore, the Philadelphia Mint struck only 1,194 of the proof coins and stored the pennies away for a century. Decades later, the 1909 VDB Lincoln Pennies gained a brilliant rainbow coloring, with varying red and brown tones to them. These unique and attractive pennies, along with their low mintage numbers make them one of the most rare and valuable pennies in the hobby. In August 2014, one example in uncirculated condition sold in Chicago through Heritage Auctions for $258,500.

6) 1943 Lincoln Cent – Struck on Bronze Alloy ($164,500)

1943 Lincoln Cent – Struck on Bronze Alloy from NGC Coin Explorer
Click images to enlarge.

Another penny, another printing error. Like the 1943-S Lincoln Penny, the standard 1943 Lincoln Cent was supposed to be minted on a zinc-plated steel planchet. Instead, whether by employee error or workers minting the error on purpose, a handful were created on a bronze alloy planchet. Some have argued though that the most likely explanation is that a few bronze planchets from the 1942 mintage were still stuck on the assembly line and were therefore used during the striking process.

Some of these bronze alloy 1943 Lincoln Cents entered into circulation for a time. Yet, some were also uncirculated and still contain their original reddish copper color, which adds to their desirability among collectors. That was proven in a Stack's Bowers sale from January 2013 when an uncirculated example sold for $164,500.

7) 1914-D Lincoln Cent ($152,750)

1914-D Lincoln Cent from NGC Coin Explorer
Click images to enlarge.

Not all pennies on the list are error coins, but instead earn their rarity for other reasons. In the case of the 1914-D Lincoln Cent, the pennies were heavily circulated. In fact, many people in the early decades of the 20th century collected coins that were in circulation and added them to their "Penny Boards." Due to so many of the 1914 pennies being in circulation, few were in good condition.

That's why in August 2017, when an extremely clean, uncirculated example went to auction, it commanded top dollar. A collector added the uncirculated 1914-D Lincoln Cent to their collection when they paid $152,750 in a Heritage Auctions sale.

8) 1926-S Lincoln Cent ($149,500)

1926-S Lincoln Cent from NGC Coin Explorer
Click images to enlarge.

The 1926-S Lincoln Cent is a penny that collectors can actually get their hands on fairly easily compared to most of the coins on this list. However, finding an uncirculated example is a different story. The 1926 penny had low mintage numbers, so if you come across a 1926-S in uncirculated condition, it likely maintained its copper-red color and is worth thousands of dollars.

In January 2006, coin collectors flocked to Heritage Auctions' FUN Signature Auction to bid on a lot that contained the rare and valuable penny. The winning bidder was able to add an uncirculated example of the 1926-S Lincoln Cent to their collection for a stunning $149,500.

9) 1969-S Lincoln Cent – Doubled Die Obverse ($126,500)

1969-S Lincoln Cent – Doubled Die Obverse from NGC Coin Explorer
Click images to enlarge.

The 1969-S Lincoln Cent with a double-died obverse is one of the most interesting error coins on the "Pennies Worth Money" list, and its story is equally as fascinating. The following year, in 1970, the error coin was discovered and believed to be counterfeit by the US government. So, officials confiscated a handful of the coins and destroyed them before realizing and later admitting the pennies were genuine error examples.

The coins, which include doubling of the obverse's lettering and date, were allowed to circulate. However, uncirculated versions are extremely hard to come by these days. Due to their scarcity on the market, they can sell for huge amounts of money, including a January 2008 sale through Heritage Auctions for $126,500.

10) 1909-S VDB Lincoln Cent ($117,500)

1909-S VDB Lincoln Cent from NGC Coin Explorer
Click images to enlarge.

Similar to the Matte Proof version of this coin from the same year, the 1909-S VDB Lincoln Cent stems from the first one-cent series to replace the Indian Head penny with the portrait of President Abraham Lincoln. As already mentioned, coin designer Victor David Brenner added all three of his initials to the coin.

Since the Treasury Department ordered for his initials to be removed, production stopped at almost a half-million minted pennies. The overnight change made these one-cent coins all the rage in the early 1900s and has made it one of the most highly sought-after coins in numismatics. In March 2014, a superb example of the famous coin sold in a Heritage Auctions sale for $117,500.

The 5 Most Expensive US Pennies Ever Sold

While Lincoln pennies can sell for thousands of dollars, some one-cent coins have reached millions of dollars at auction. Most of these date back to the late 1700s, when US pennies were first minted, and are some of the most coveted rarities in all of numismatics. Here is a list of the Top 5 most expensive pennies ever sold at auction.

1) 1792 Silver Center Cent ($2,520,000)

With only 12 known to exist in the world, and one included in the Smithsonian's National Numismatic Collection, the 1792 Silver Center Cent is the most valuable penny ever minted. The historically important penny helped lay the foundation for American coinage not long after the nation was founded in 1776. Since the earliest days of the coin hobby, this has been one of the holy grails for numismatic enthusiasts.

The 1792 Silver Center Cent was the first bimetallic coin ever minted in the United States. It was also the first documented coinage struck within the First Philadelphia Mint. Several patterns were produced, including the plugged Silver Center cent (Judd-1) and the mixed Fusible Alloy cent (Judd-2). An exact number of the Silver Center coins produced is not known; however, it is believed to be around 50 pieces. As mentioned, only one dozen remain that can be tracked today.

The unique, silver-plugged coin is highly sought-after by advanced numismatists and is clamored over each time one becomes available at auction. In January 2021, Heritage Auctions offered a superb 1792 Silver Center Cent, which was the finest known of its type. The rare penny broke all one-cent records when it realized a staggering $2,520,000, making it the most valuable penny across the globe.

2) 1793 Chain America Cent ($2,350,000)

In the early months of 1793, the United States Mint in Philadelphia produced a short-lived issue that became one of the most famous pennies ever created. Struck in the first full year of coinage production for our country, many criticized the design of the 1793 Chain America Cent. The obverse featured a portrait of Lady Liberty, as mandated by law. As for the reverse, it featured a 15-link chain that represented each of the states in the Union at the time of production.

However, the public complained about the design of Liberty's demeanor on the front. Additionally, some took issue with the chains on the reverse, pointing to a connotation of slavery, which was not favored by many even in the late 18th century. Production came to a stop because of a copper shortage, but in the meantime, a new design was created and promptly utilized once minting resumed. Since the issue had such a brief production run, Chain cents are extremely rare and can command huge amounts when sold.

Due to the coin's scarcity and its special place within American numismatic history, collectors vie for the opportunity to own a 1793 Chain America Cent anytime they are available. In January 2015, a bidding war ensued over a example that realized an astounding $2,350,000 in a Heritage Auctions sale, making it the second-most valuable penny ever.

3) 1943-D Lincoln Bronze Cent ($1,700,000)

This is the only coin that makes both of our lists, and as already mentioned, this is the holy grail of all rare and valuable Lincoln pennies. There were only 20 bronze 1943-D pennies released from each of the San Francisco and Philadelphia Mints, and the Denver Mint only minted one bronze 1943-D penny. With only one known in the world, it makes this coin the rarest of the Lincoln pennies worth big money.

The 1943-D Lincoln Cent was the most expensive penny ever sold in 2010. Offered in a private sale that took place in September 2010, it realized $1.7 million through Legend Numismatics.

4) 1793 Strawberry Leaf Cent ($862,500)

The year before, in 2009, another one-cent coin stole the numismatic headlines: the iconic Parmalee 1793 Strawberry Leaf Cent. This Wreath cent variation was the second of the three different large cent types struck in 1793 and is considered the most recognizable of the bunch. The obverse shows the head of Lady Liberty, with flowing hair. The prominent design on the reverse is of a wreath surrounding the words "One Cent," which is why the coins are referred to as Wreath cents.

There are numerous varieties of the Wreath cents, with around 63,350 in total minted in the early 1790s. Yet, there are only four known examples of the 1793 Strawberry Leaf Cent variation. Additionally, the Parmalee example is the only example to boast a fully legible date, adding to its desirability.

Well-known collector Lorin G. Parmelee first brought the example to auction in 1890, when it sold for $79. Since then, it has exchanged hands only a few times over the next 130 years. Most recently, it sold in a Stack's Bowers sale in August 2020 for $660,000 to an anonymous buyer. However, the exact coin realized $862,500 during a January 2009 sale, which was a then-record price for a penny.

5) 1795 Liberty Cap Large Cent ($408,000)

The 1795 Liberty Cap Large Cent is another highly sought-after and valuable penny. In fact, the Lettered Edge Jefferson Head cent version is such a rare penny that there are only five known examples worldwide. Each of the five examples of the coin represent two different die marriages and five different subvarieties. This essentially means that each of the five rare pennies are unique unto themselves, adding to their scarcity.

In August 2020, Stack's Bowers held an auction that included a lot for an ESM example of the famed 1795 Liberty Cap Large Cent. This is the finest known quality example of the Lettered Edge Jefferson Head cent variety. The 100% copper coin sold for a record price for the type when it realized $408,000 at auction end.

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