Although many factors determine the exact value of a coin, you can quickly determine the value of your penny by knowing its type, date, mintmark, and grade. Additionally, the value of a particular coin can vary between markets and coin dealers. If a coin dealer is overstocked with the coin you are trying to sell, she is more likely to offer you less money for it. If the coin dealer is in search of that particular coin for a frequent customer, she is more likely to pay you more for it.
A coin type is very easily determined by looking at it. The design that is used in a particular denomination of coin over time is known as its type. For example, Lincoln cents feature a portrait of Lincoln on the obverse that has been there since 1909. The reverse originally featured two stalks of wheat and this type was known as the Lincoln Wheat Penny.
The United States Mint has made four different types of small cents:
- Flying Eagle Penny (1856-1858)
- Indian Head Penny (1859-1909)
- Wheat Penny (1909-1958)
- Lincoln Memorial Penny (1959-2008)
Finding the Value of Your Penny
To find out how much your U.S. penny is worth, we first need to determine its type. The U.S. has made two major types of pennies, the Large Cent, and the Small Cent. The Large Cents are dated 1857 and earlier and are much bigger and heavier than our current penny type, the Small Cent. If you have Large Cents in your collection that you need information or values for, I recommend that you find an honest coin dealer to help you evaluate them, as Large Cents have many different varieties for most dates, and shouldn't be priced using an online price guide if you want maximum money for them.
Determine Your Penny Type
If your penny is the Small Cent type, it will be about the same size as the ones we use today although it might be a tiny bit heavier. The United States Mint currently makes all one-cent coins on zinc planchets that have a thin layer of pure copper covering the entire surface. Pennies minted before 1982 were made of solid copper or bronze. This alloy is slightly heavier than the current zinc-plated alloy that the mint is currently using.
If your small-sized penny is dated 1857 or 1858, it is a Flying Eagle Cent. A Flying Eagle Cent in the well-worn condition is worth about $15 to $25 if you sold it to a coin dealer. (Note: Most of the coin prices are realistic amounts that a dealer will pay you. They're not retail or "catalog" values like you find virtually everywhere else. Most people looking for coin prices want to know how much they can sell their coins for today.)
If your Flying Eagle Cent is dated 1856, you need to take it to a dealer to get an appraisal. This penny is very rare, with a mintage of only 2,000 specimens, and forgeries and alterations of this date are far more common than the genuine 1856. The 1856 Flying Eagle Cent is considered to be a pattern coin, rather than a circulation issue by many experts. For a full chart of Indian Flying Eagle Penny values, see:
Indian Head pennies are dated from 1859 through 1909, and have a depiction of Lady Liberty wearing an Indian-style feathered headdress, hence the misnomer "Indian Head" Penny. In general, all Indian Head Pennies are worth at least $1 each, even in very worn condition, as long as they're not severely damaged. Be on the lookout for 1877 and 1909-S Indian head pennies. They are most valuable in any condition and are highly sought after by coin collectors.
Wheat Pennies are dated from 1909 to 1958 and have a portrait of Lincoln on one side, and a wreath-like design of wheat heads on the other. Sometimes called "Lincoln Cents" (without mentioning the Memorial as described below,) they are made of almost pure copper (95%) except for one year, the 1943 penny, which is made of zinc-plated steel.
All Wheat Pennies are worth at least three times face value, but of course many are worth substantially more especially the key date Wheat pennies. Be on the lookout for the ultra-rare 1909-S VDB. this coin is most sought after by collectors and is most valuable in any grade. Also, the 1909-S (no VDB on the reverse), the 1914-D and the 1931-S are also valuable coins in any condition.
Lincoln Memorial Pennies are dated 1959 to 2008 and have a portrait of Lincoln on one side of the Lincoln Memorial building on the other. They were made of 95% copper until 1982. During 1982 the composition was changed to 97.5% zinc, with a thin copper plating, so that you have pennies dated 1982 made of both metal types. From 1983 until today, all U.S. pennies are made of mostly zinc. Most Lincoln Memorial Pennies are only worth face value unless they have their original copper luster from the Mint.
In 2009, the U.S. Mint issued a unique commemorative set of four pennies to celebrate the 100th anniversary of President Lincoln's birth and the Lincoln cent design. Lincoln Cents enjoyed a surge in popularity, which meant some higher values for these incredibly popular pennies.
The United States Mint in 2010 permanently changed the reverse of the Lincoln cent to feature a shield with E PLURIBUS UNUM at the top and a banner emblazoned with ONE CENT across the shield. These new coins are known as the Lincoln Shield Reverse penny. Numismatists classify these three different types of Lincoln pennies all under the Lincoln Memorial Cent type.
Edited by: James Bucki