I can’t write a blog about collecting US coins without mentioning the country’s most popular coin. Minted for over 100 years, I thought I would just talk about the first 50 years and talk about the Lincoln Memorial and beyond in a separate post. So without further ado, let’s talk about Lincoln Wheat Cents.
The history of the Lincoln Cent goes back to 1904. President Theodore Roosevelt wrote to the Treasury Secretary and I will summarize what he wrote about the current coins in one word, Boring! He suggested hiring a private sculptor to change the design of some coins. That sculptor would be Augustus St. Gaudens and he was hired to design the penny and the four gold coins since they have been produced over 25 years, which meant they didn’t need an Act of Congress to change them.
St. Gaudens thought of putting a flying eagle on the cent, which ended up on the $20 Double Eagle gold coin. Then, a design of Liberty with an Indian headdress(suggested by Roosevelt), but the design would be included on the $2.50 Quarter Eagle, $5 Half Eagle and $10 Eagle Gold coins. St. Gaudens past away in August, 1907 without a final cent design.
A number of people thought that Abraham Lincoln would be perfect for the penny as the centennial of his birth was approaching in February, 1909. President Roosevelt liked the idea. After all, they were both Republicans. Lincoln would be the first actual person to appear on a US circulated coin. The first person to appear on a US coin was Christopher Columbus in 1892 on a commemorative half dollar. The honor of designing the Lincoln Cent would go to Victor David Brenner. In early 1909, Brenner designed the profile of Lincoln for the obverse. The reverse would show an ear of durum wheat on the left and right sides. On March 4th, Brenner would lose his backing from Roosevelt as William Howard Taft would become President. Brenner also had issues with Charles Barber who designed the current nickel, dime, quarter and half dollar. Brenner believed that Barber was slowing down the final process. By May, Brenner showed two versions to President Taft, and he picked the one with the motto. The Lincoln Cent would finally be released on August 2, 1909.
The early cents minted in 1909 had Victor Brenner’s initials (V.D.B.) on the bottom of the reverse. A lot of people didn’t like the initials on the coin. Some reasons included the initials were too big, or people didn’t know what V.D.B stood for. The mint stopped minting briefly to remove the initial. Before stopping production, Philadelphia had minted almost 28 million pennies, but San Francisco only minted 484,000 making it the rarest Lincoln Cent. Even after taking the initials out, San Francisco would only mint an additional 1,825,000 cents in 1909.
San Francisco would not mint 10 million cents a year until 1916 making the 1910-S to 1915-S cents semi-key dates.
Another key date is the 1914-D with about 1.2 million cents. Though prices are lowers than the 1909-S VDB in circulated condition, the uncirculated 1914-D is higher.
The 1920’s had semi-key dates including the 1922-D, 1924-D and 1926-S. Some of the 1922-D mint marks were worn. In fact, some of them didn’t look like they had a mint mark at all, making them look like coins from Philadelphia. Philadelphia actually didn’t produce any 1922 cents.
A final key date for the Wheat Cents was the 1931-S. At 866,000 minted, it would be the second rarest Lincoln Cent. However, unlike the 1909-S VDB and 1914-D, people realized the low mintage and hoarded the 1931-S. An uncirculated specimen could be bought for under $200.
Wheat Cents were more plentiful from 1934 to 1958.
In 1943, copper was in high demand for the war effort. So, the copper content of the cent was replaced with steel for that year. A few copper cents were accidentally minted, making them extremely rare, but beware of fake ones.
Would you consider collecting Wheat Cents?
If you think about it, the Lincoln Wheat Cents can be split into two parts:
- 1909 – 1933 – a definite challenge to collect
- 1934 – 1958 – much easier to collect
If you plan on collecting every single cent, expect on spending some time and money to complete it. A one coin a year set would be an easier alternative, even with the 1909-P VDB. Can you think of other ways to collect the Lincoln Cents?
You are really passionate about the subject, I see a lot of details in your writing , Form personnal experience when looking for a subject the details are what differentiate from the rest and those details are the information one is really craving . And the background you give about you makes the site more personal so one can feel that is treating with a person and not a salesman
Thanks for the kind comments. I’ve always been interested in coins and hope to get others interested.
Any historical object is always an interest for me. I always imagine what would I be doing if I have lived in those days.
I thought about collecting coins once. But never give it a go. I think I never collect anything.
I love to read. My house is full of books. I don’t know if this can be count as collecting. And just like I said, I love history. So my book collections include history books.
Reading your article made me stood amongst the President and the designers of the coin. Thank you so much for the great read.
I always liked history too. That’s one reason I enjoyed collecting coins. US coins go back to when George Washington was president, takes us to the Civil War, make Theodore Roosevelt change coin designs for the better.
Sounds like you have a book collection which is great! Where are going to learn more about history than from books. I suppose you can learn history online, but reading about it in books sounds for interesting.
If you decide to collect coins, come back here. I’m hoping to continue this for a long time.
This article is so timely for me. Recently was looking through some old boxes from my parents home and found one box that contained rolls of coins,of all denominations. Your article was written from a collectors point of view, but what I would like to know is what these coins may be wort. Of course if I took them to the bank they would be worth face value, but I have no idea if there is a valuable coin among them. what should I do to assess if they are worth more? Thanks, Dee
You’re right, this blog is more about collecting but I also plan on selling them in the future.
Well, you can do a search online but I think you should consider what is called the red book which is because of the red cover. I think the 2017 book is out now. They give you an idea of what your coin is worth. I am planning to do a post on books next week if you want to check it out. It’s the book I use when I want ro check a certain coins value. Good luck on your coins.
I was reading about the Lincoln Wheat Cents in the news not too long ago about someone who had sold one of the copper minted 1943 cent for close to a million dollars so I went through all my old change to see if I had one and I actually had a 1943 cent that did’t look like steel at all. I got really excited until I found out you can test the authenticity by seeing if it was magnetic…and it was. Was fun to think about though! Great stuff, I’m glad I came across your site.
It’s true. There are only a few 1943 cents that were made of copper instead of steel. I have one of the fake cents that is steel but is coated in copper to look like one of those authentic copper cents. A magnet proves it to be fake. Sorry you don’t have the real cent.
Glad you like my site and thanks for the comment!
love collecting wheat pennies since I was
10 yrs. old. 1909 is the oldest one i have.
I also loved collecting pennies when I was kid. I also like to find Wheaties in change. You don’t see them as much as you used to. Thanks for the comment Tim!