The History of the Wheat Penny

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    • The first wheat pennies replaced the Indian head cent that had replaced the flying eagle image that had adorned the obverse of the coin since 1857. The Lincoln image idea came from artist Victor Brenner as a way to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Lincoln's birthday. President Theodore Roosevelt approved the idea and commissioned the creation of the "Lincoln coin" in 1908 for a timely release the following year.


    • The first wheat pennies were struck in 95 copper and 5 percent zinc. While the plain edge and 19mm diameter remained constant, the weight of the coin fluctuated between 2.7 and 3.11 grams. This was the composition of all wheat pennies every year they were produced with one exception. In 1943 the composition of the coin was changed to 100 percent steel with a thin zinc coating because copper was needed for the World War II effort. These coins were poorly made and difficult to use in vending machines. They were very unpopular and the mint returned to the original composition the following year.

    Controversial Initials

    • While the front, or obverse, of the wheat penny bears the profile image of Lincoln, the reverse has stylized wheat stalks around the words "one cent." Until 1918, the reverse also prominently featured the letters "V.D.B.," the initials of designer Victor David Brenner. Because Brenner had been paid for the design, many thought the placement of his initials on the penny was in poor taste and they were eventually removed. The San Francisco mint only produced a total 484,000 pennies bearing Brenner's initials in 1909, by far the lowest of all the mints. These 1909-S coins are among the most valuable of wheat pennies.

    Errors and Other Valuable Coins

    • The 1914-D penny, from the Denver mint, also had a low mintage of about 1.2 million. An uncirculated version of this coin sold for $26,000 in October of 2000. A 1955 double-die coin, the obverse of which was struck twice to accidently produce a slightly offset double of Lincoln, sold for $46,000 at auction in 2002. In 1922, Wheat Pennies were only produced by the Denver mint. Due to the heavy work load, a variety of different error coins were produced that year.


    • The penny was modified in 1959 to mark the 150th anniversary of Lincoln's birth. The reverse of the wheat penny was replaced with a depiction of the Lincoln memorial by Frank Gasparro. Some wheat pennies remain in circulation, but most are not worth more than 10 cents.

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