What makes a 1939 Wheat penny rare? The 1939 wheat penny is one of the most coveted coins for collectors. With only a couple hundred thousand minted, these Lincoln cents can be worth a pretty penny if you happen to have one. But what exactly makes the 1939 wheat penny so rare and valuable?

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: The 1939 Lincoln wheat penny in general is not a rare find, as millions were produced that year. However, the 1939-D variety was minted in the amount of just 15,160,000 coins, which was very unusual for the Denver Mint at that time.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore why the 1939 cent is so rare, identifying markings, value ranges, and tips for spotting counterfeits.

Background on Wheat Pennies and the 1939 Coin

Brief history of wheat pennies

Wheat pennies were first minted in 1909 when the Lincoln Cent design by Victor David Brenner was chosen to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birth. The coin featured a portrait of Lincoln on the obverse and two sheaves of wheat on the reverse, giving rise to the “wheat penny” nickname.

Wheat pennies were minted continuously from 1909 to 1958 when they were replaced by the Lincoln Memorial design we see today.

Over 30 billion wheat pennies were produced during the 50 years they were minted. Many were hoarded during the Great Depression and World War II due to coin shortages, making certain dates more scarce. But the 1939-D Lincoln wheat penny stands out as having the lowest mintage of the series.

Why so few 1939 coins were minted

In 1939, the Denver Mint was preparing dies with master tooling hubs for the nickel, dime, quarter, and half a dollar in anticipation of productions bearing the dates 1940, 1941, and 1942.

Extra time and resources allocated to commemorative designs and preparations for new coin productions resulted in a reduced output of only 15 million wheat pennies compared to the previous year.

With World War II ramping up in 1939, the priority was placed on larger denominations more frequently used in commerce and international trade.

Surviving coins exhibit wear from heavy circulation, as pennies were commonly used for small purchases in the 30s and 40s. This scarcity and demand from coin collectors has greatly increased the value of 1939 pennies over time.

According to the Professional Coin Grading Service, an average circulated 1939 penny is worth around $3-5. Specimens certified in mint state grades can sell for over $75. And ultra rare proof versions have commanded prices exceeding $700 at auction.

How to Identify a 1939 Wheat Cent

Date and mint mark details

Wheat pennies minted in 1939 will have the date and mint marl printed on the front, under the portrait of Abraham Lincoln. They should show the year “1939” without a mint mark, indicating they were made at the Philadelphia Mint.

Some rare versions feature small letters like “D” (Denver mint) or “S” (San Francisco) – these are more valuable to collectors.

Condition and grades

The condition or grade of a 1939 penny greatly impacts its value. Factors like wear, luster, color toning, and markings determine condition. Professional coin grading services use a 70-point numeric scale – higher numbers mean better preservation.

For example, an “MS-65” grade (gem uncirculated) 1939 wheat penny can sell for over $100.

Spotting counterfeit 1939 pennies

Counterfeit 1939 Lincoln cents may replicate details quite well, but often weigh less than genuine pennies because they lack copper content. You can test using a magnet – real 1939 coppers won’t stick. Examining through a magnifying glass can reveal errors in fonts or die marks.

Certified coins sold by reputable dealers ensure authenticity.

According to data from Professional Coin Grading Service, over 600,000 1939 Lincoln cents have been authenticated and graded, but less than 1% qualify as high-grade collector coins. With attention to subtle details, numismatists can identify truly valuable specimens from this significant year in wheat penny production.

1939 Wheat Penny Value and Price Ranges

Circulated and Lower Grades

The majority of 1939 wheat pennies in circulation are worth around $0.03 to $0.10 if they are in well-worn condition. According to the USA Coin Book, a 1939 wheat penny with heavy wear can be valued at around $0.03. Slightly more preserved circulated coins can fetch $0.10 or sometimes higher.

Condition is very important in determining value.

Some key dates and mint marks, like the 1939-D wheat penny, can raise the value slightly to $0.15 to $0.25 even in lower grades. But overall, most circulated 1939 pennies are only worth a small premium over face value.

Uncirculated and Higher Grades

In mint state grades, 1939 wheat pennies become worth considerably more to collectors. Here is an overview:

  • MS-60 to MS-63: $0.50 to $1
  • MS-64: Around $2
  • MS-65: $10 to $15
  • MS-66 to MS-67: $30 to $100 or even higher for superb quality

In general, uncirculated condition wheat pennies are scarcer and demand larger premiums over worn specimens. Grades above MS-65 can fetch very strong prices due to their rarity and quality.

Grade Value Range
MS-60 to MS-63 $0.50 to $1
MS-64 Around $2
MS-65 $10 to $15
MS-66 to MS-67 $30 to $100+

PCGS Coin Facts and the NGC Price Guide regularly update values for certified 1939 Lincoln wheat pennies. Graded examples with strong eye appeal can trade for solid premiums.

Tips for Finding Your Own 1939 Wheat Cent

Coin rolls and bank bags

One of the best places to look for rare wheat cents is by searching through coin rolls and bank bags obtained from your local bank. Many times these contain older wheat cents that people have spent into circulation.

You can ask your bank for rolls of pennies and carefully go through them, keeping an eye out for any 1909-1958 wheat cents, especially from the 1930s. The same goes for large canvas bank bags of loose pennies, which you may be able to acquire and search through.

Just make sure to return or exchange any coins when you’re done!

Coin shows and dealer inventory

Attending local coin shows is another excellent way to find rare wheat cents. Reputable coin dealers at these shows often have access to nice collections of wheat cents, including harder-to-find dates like 1939. You can ask dealers at the show if they have any 1939 wheat cents available for sale.

The prices may be higher than finding them in circulation, but the quality might also be better. Building relationships with knowledgeable coin dealers can help you get first access when they obtain new inventory.

Metal detecting and coin rolls

An engaging hands-on approach is to use a metal detector to hunt for lost coins in parks, schools, fairgrounds, and other public places. While requiring patience and effort, this method has the potential to uncover valuable wheat cent finds. Be sure to get permission first and follow local laws.

Another idea in this category is to gather up discarded coin wrappers and rolls from banks and coin shops, slice them open carefully, and see if any vintage wheat cents were overlooked inside. You never know what previous searching may have missed!

What Makes A 1939 Wheat Penny Rare – Conclusion

In the world of coin collecting, few pennies compare to the prestige of the 1939 wheat cent. Its incredible rarity paired with the iconic wheat ear reverse makes this Lincoln cent a highly coveted prize.

Armed with the information in this guide, you can now easily spot the 1939 date, recognize its condition grades, and avoid counterfeit copies. Whether you find one in circulation or buy from a reputable dealer, the 1939 wheat penny will always be an important piece of numismatic history.

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