You may find more than spare change in your piggy bank, including some valuable pennies if you're lucky. Sometimes with huge circulation numbers, there are more opportunities for errors during the production process. In any case, the lowly penny may be some of the most valuable coins in your collection.
History of Penny Production
Penny production evolved to the familiar Lincoln penny you know today. Up until 1982, the copper penny was just that — copper. That changed, however, when the pennies containing 95 percent copper proved to be more valuable than one cent. The composition was changed to create a penny worth its weight at 97.5 percent zinc and 2.5 percent copper.
This change in composition is a factor in valuable pennies. Another trait is the design. From 1909 to 1958, the penny design included what is known as the Lincoln Wheat Ear Cent or wheat penny, the longest running design in U.S. history. Designed by New York sculptor Victor David Brenner, the wheat penny features two stalks of wheat, a symbol harkening back to the prosperity of agriculture and grain.
Coins to Keep
Many of the valuable pennies you may find are simply errors. Either the production was flawed somehow or there was a doubling of letters or symbols on the design. Of course, as with many collectibles, fakes have been created. Be on guard when collecting because of this possibility.
You may want to hang onto any wheat pennies in your collection. Though circulation numbers were high, uncirculated specimens can fetch a better price. Their copper value alone makes them worth more than their face value, even if by just a couple cents. The same applies to pennies produced before the change in composition in 1982.
If you have pennies from this time in good to excellent condition, make sure to separate them from your other coins in a coin album to protect them from further wear. Copper is a relatively soft metal that will wear easily over time.
A few pennies stand out as truly valuable pennies. When going through your coin collection, you'll want to keep an eye out for these rare treasures.
Perhaps one of the more well-known valuable pennies is the 1943 wheat copper penny. The story behind this coin reflects a turbulent time during World War II. While the country was embattled in the war in Europe, copper and nickel were needed for the war effort, diverting the copper used in penny production.
Pennies were made with zinc-coated steel rather than the typical copper. However, a handful of copper 1943 wheat pennies made it into circulation. There are only about a dozen confirmed examples. According to the United States Mint, a confirmed example sold for $82,500 in 1996.
Flaws in Production
Other valuable pennies include small numbers of flawed coins. What you want to look for is clear doubling on the cast. Among the valuable coins are:
- 1969-S--double die on head side
- 1955--double die exhibited in lettering on head side
- 1970-S--double die on head side in lettering of words "LIBERTY" and "IN GOD WE TRUST"
- 1998, 1999, and 2000--wide separation of AM in AMERICA on reverse of coin
Other coins are valuable not because of what is on the coin, but rather what is missing or where it is from. The mintmark is a common example of places to look which translate into valuable coins. A couple coins to look out for include:
- 1922 Wheat penny with no mintmark
- 1909 Wheat penny with flaw on S mintmark
- 1909-S Wheat penny with designer's initials, V.D.B.
- 1944, 1946 Wheat penny with double stamping of mintmark
- 1914-D mintmark
- 1931-S mintmark
Collecting coins gives you a glimpse into American history. It also shows how someone's mistake can be another person's gain. Before you cash in the change in your piggy bank, it may be worth your while to take a closer look at those pennies. That spare change could mean some serious cash.