What makes a 1956 D penny rare? In 1956, the United States Mint produced over 1.8 billion Lincoln pennies with a “D” mint mark, indicating they were struck at the Denver Mint. Yet some 1956 D pennies are worth far more than their face value of 1 cent.
If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: A small number of 1956 D pennies have rare doubled die errors, making them extremely valuable to coin collectors and dealers.
In this comprehensive guide, we’ll uncover what distinguishes ordinary 1956 D pennies from the rare, valuable ones coveted by numismatists and collectors. We’ll look at the special features, markings, conditions, and stories behind the most prized Lincoln cents from this abundant mintage year.
Total Mintage and Rarity
Over 1.8 billion 1956 D pennies produced
The 1956 D Wheat Penny had an extraordinarily high mintage, with over 1,098,201,100 coins struck at the Denver Mint that year. This exceeds the total population of the United States at the time, which was around 180 million in 1956 according to Census data.
As such, the 1956 D cent is one of the most plentiful 20th-century US coin issues.
Low relative rarity among business strike Lincoln cents
With billions of specimens extant, the 1956 D Lincoln Wheat Penny is considered very common by numismatic standards. By way of comparison, earlier semi-key dates like the 1914 D, 1931 S, and 1955 doubled die obverse had mintages under 100 million each.
So the 1956 D outnumbers those issues by at least 10 to 1. Later rare varieties like the 1969 S doubled die also had tiny populations under 100,000 coins. Thus, the prevalent 1956 D is light years away from being rare.
Far outnumbers earlier rare dates like 1909-S VDB
The 1956 D vastly eclipses the output of earlier condition rarities like the 1909-S VDB Lincoln Cent. The introductory 1909 S VDB had a meager mintage of just 484,000 pieces. Even accounting for melting over the years, there are still easily more than a million times as many 1956 D Wheat Pennies as the famous 1909-S VDB.
The 1956 D was so heavily produced that worn, lower-grade examples are plentiful today. This contrasts sharply with the 1909-S VDB, where most survivors are in circulated grade, but demand far outpaces supply.
Doubled Die Varieties
Some 1956 D pennies feature extremely rare and valuable “doubled die” varieties. These result from errors during the minting process where the coin die imprints multiple overlapping images onto the coin. This creates a dramatic doubling effect on certain elements of the coin’s design.
1956 D Double Die Obverse
The most famous doubled-die variety for 1956 D cents is the 1956 D Doubled Die Obverse (DDO). This variety exhibits a strong doubling of the words “LIBERTY” and “IN GOD WE TRUST” on the obverse (front) of the coin.
The radical doubling happens because multiple impressions of these design elements were imprinted very closely together during minting. Under magnification, the words appear dramatically distorted and spread out.
Extreme doubling of LIBERTY and IN GOD WE TRUST
The doubling seen on the 1956 D Doubled Die Obverse penny is ranked amongst the most extreme in doubled die varieties. The spread between the duplicate impressions of “LIBERTY” and “IN GOD WE TRUST” is wider than almost any other doubled-die coin.
This pronounced doubling is highly prized by coin collectors and historians. It makes the 1956 D Doubled Die Obverse one of the most popular and famous error varieties in all of US coinage.
Fewer than 20 examples believed to exist
Despite over 1.8 billion 1956 D pennies being produced, the 1956 D Doubled Die Obverse is extraordinarily scarce. PCGS Coin Facts estimates that fewer than 20 examples are known to exist.
Due to so few being found over the last 60+ years, many numismatists believe the actual mintage may have been as low as 5 to 10 coins. This extremely limited supply also adds to the coin’s legendary status.
In recent years, certified mint state examples of the 1956 D Doubled Die Obverse penny have sold for over $100,000 at auction. Even worn circulated examples can command five-figure prices due to high demand from collectors.
The coin marketplace company PCGS CoinFacts states that the 1956 D Doubled Die Obverse cent, “is one of the most popular and famous error varieties in all of U.S. numismatics.”
Errors and Variations
Off-center strikes occur when a coin is not properly aligned when the hammer die strikes the planchet. This results in part of the coin’s design being truncated or missing altogether. Off-center errors are usually dramatic and obvious to the naked eye, making them popular among a variety collectors.
According to Professional Coin Grading Service statistics, less than 1% of 1956 D Lincoln pennies exhibit detectable off-center strikes. However, examples showing 25% or more off-center are scarce and tend to sell for significant premiums over base value.
A broadstruck error happens when a coin is struck without the collar die in place to restrain the flow of metal. This causes the blank to spread out unchecked, resulting in a coin that is abnormally wide and flat.
Broadstruck 1956 D cents are rare, as quality control measures at the Denver Mint were relatively strict during that year. When found, they can sell for upwards of $1,000 or more among collectors.
Condition and Grade
Most are well-circulated grade
The majority of 1956 D pennies are in well-circulated condition, typically grading Good, Very Good, or Fine on the numismatic grading scale. This means they have seen considerable handling and wear from use in commerce. Many exhibit smooth, worn surfaces and an even, uniform patina.
While common, these circulated examples are still treasured by collectors looking to complete a date and mint mark set.
Mint State coins have numismatic premium
Uncirculated 1956 D pennies with no wear are considered rare. These lustrous, Mint State coins were quickly spent into circulation and few were set aside in pristine condition. An MS60 example may trade for around $8-10, while an MS65 commands $30-40.
The top populations graded are MS66 and MS67, with perhaps a few hundred pieces known of each. These finest surviving 1956-D cents can sell for upwards of $300-500, showcasing the steep premium MS coins receive.
High MS grading means more collector value
Within Mint State, subtleties in preservation make a difference. A 1956 D penny-graded MS64 could reasonably sell for $75-100. But an MS65 piece with slightly better luster, surfaces, and strike detail might bring $150-225. Top-end MS66 examples exhibit exemplary quality and can push $300-500.
There are even a handful of MS67 coins trading for $500+. Incremental improvements in Mint State grade translate to exponentially more collector appeal and market value. Securing a rare high-end MS 1956 D cent is a challenge but brings great reward.
What Makes A 1956 D Penny Rare – Conclusion
Although over 1.8 billion 1956 D pennies entered circulation, a small number of coins stand out for their rarity, visually intriguing errors, and unusually pristine state of preservation.
Coins exhibiting doubled die errors, dramatic off-center strikes, unusual overdates, and near-perfect Mint State grades are the keys to identifying a valuable 1956 D Lincoln wheat cent.