How Much is My Old Penny Worth?
By | September 25, 2017

A US one-cent coin was approved by the Continental Congress in 1787, five years before the US Mint was created by an act of the US Congress. It was designed (probably) by Benjamin Franklin, made of 100% copper, and carried the motto “Fugio,” Latin for “I fly,” on its face, which gave it it’s popular name, the Fugio Cent. Around 400,000 were made by a private contractor, of which about 1,650 are known to still exist. Lower grade samples are still readily available for a few hundred dollars, while high quality coins are rare and sell for upwards of $20,000. At least 55 variations are known to exist and can have a major effect on price.

The First Official Penny

The official US one-cent coin came into existence in 1793 at the new US Mint in Philadelphia. Known as the “Flowing Hair” cent, it was made of copper and was 1 ⅛ inch in diameter. Nearly the size of the current half dollar coin, it was the first of the so-called large cents that remained in production with seven different designs through 1857.

Modern Pennies

The modern “small cent” was introduced in 1856 to offset the rising price of copper and has had three different designs. The Flying Eagle design was made from 1856 to 1858, when it was replaced by the Indian Head cent. In 1909, the Lincoln Cent was introduced to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birth and has remained in production since with several changes to the coin’s reverse design.

Penny Prices

The 1943 Steel Wheat Penny was accidentally struck when the Mint was converting back to copper cents from the wartime steel coins. Only a few were produced and none were released into circulation. If you have one in mint condition, it’s worth over $100,000, but zinc-coated copper fakes abound, so don’t get excited until you have it professionally evaluated.

Rarity and condition are what determine a coin’s value, and mistakes are among the rarest. But even commonly made coins can bring high prices. Here are some ranges based on information current at this time:

Large cents

You’ll only find most of these at dealers or in museums. Or buried in your back yard. Maybe. But some are surprisingly affordable if you’re not fussy about condition.

Design

Years

Low $

High $

Comments

Flowing Hair Chain

1793

5,000

2,750,000

Flowing Hair Wreath

1793

1,900

700,000

Liberty Cap

1793–1796

350

200,000

Draped bust

1796–1807

90

185,000

Classic Head

1808–1814

100

210,000

1813 Small Date highest

Coronet

1816–1839

28

300,000

1823 highest

Braided Hair

1839–1857

25

725,000

1856 Slanted S highest

Braided Hair

1868

?

20,700

At auction 2007

Small cents

Flying Eagle cents are rarely found outside of collections, but Lincoln Wheats commonly turn up in circulation, and finding an Indian Head is not unheard of, so watch your change.

Design

Years

Low $

High $

Comments

Flying Eagle

1856–1858

23.00

17,500

1856 highest

Indian Head

1859–1909

7.00

10,000

1873 highest

Lincoln Wheat

1909–1958

.03

2,800

1914-D highest

Lincoln Wheat - Zinc

1943

.06

6.00

1943-S highest

Lincoln Wheat - Bronze

1943

14,000

500,000+

1943-S highest

Lincoln Wheat - Steel

1943

.10

100,000+

Many fakes

Lincoln Wheat - Copper

1943

60,000

85,000+

Many fakes

Lincoln Wheat - Steel

1944

2,100

100,000+

Many fakes

Lincoln Memorial-copper

1959–1982

340

1972 Double Die highest

Lincoln Memorial - zinc

1982-2008

.01

170

1983 Double Die highest

Lincoln Bicentennial

2009

.01

.32

Proof quality highest

Lincoln Union Shield

2010–present

.01

.78

Denver mint highest

As you can see, there is a lot to learn about the humble penny, and a huge range of values, even within rarer coins, so always have your pennies graded by a professional coin grading service and only buy from sources you trust.

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