When did the Wheat penny end? The Lincoln wheat penny is a classic American coin that has an interesting history behind its limited production run. If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: the wheat penny ended in 1958 when the coin’s reverse design was changed from a depiction of two wheat stalks to the Lincoln Memorial.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore the full story behind the wheat penny – from its first minting in 1909 to why the design was discontinued in 1958 after a nearly 50-year run. We’ll look at key dates, mint marks, and values for wheat cents today.

The Origins of the Wheat Penny

The Lincoln Cent Series Begins in 1909

In 1909, the Lincoln cent was introduced to honor the nation’s 16th president on the 100th anniversary of his birth. The new design featured Abraham Lincoln’s profile facing right on the obverse side, replacing the Indian Head cents that had been produced since 1859.

This began the Lincoln cent series that continues today over a century later.

The initial Lincoln penny, produced at the Philadelphia Mint, depicted twin stalks of wheat on the reverse side. Wheat was chosen as it symbolized agriculture, one of America’s economic strengths at the turn of the 20th century.

This wheat design gave rise to the coin’s popular nickname – the “wheat penny.”

Wheat Design Chosen for Reverse

The wheat strands illustrated on the first Lincoln cents reflected America’s agricultural dominance. According to the U.S. Mint, wheat was seen as “emblematic of progress in agriculture.” At the time, almost half of the U.S. population lived in rural areas and agriculture drove the economy.

The Wheat Ears reverse design was created by Mint Chief Engraver Charles E. Barber. His ears of Wheat design went through an open competition before its final selection. Over 500 entries were submitted, assessed on “newness, appropriateness, and attractiveness of the designs,” according to the Director of the Mint.

Barber’s design prevailed and the Lincoln wheat penny entered circulation in August 1909. It remained largely unaltered, apart from adjustments to Lincoln’s portrait over the years, until 1958 when the wheat ears were replaced with the current Lincoln Memorial reverse.

The End of the Wheat Penny in 1958

50th Anniversary Sparks Redesign Discussion

In 1958, the Lincoln wheat penny was reaching its 50th anniversary. This milestone sparked discussions within the United States Treasury Department about potentially redesigning the coin to commemorate the occasion.

After all, the wheat penny design featuring Abraham Lincoln on the obverse and two wheat heads on the reverse had not changed since its introduction in 1909.

Treasury officials considered keeping Lincoln on the obverse but updating the reverse design. One idea floated was replacing the wheat imagery with a depiction of Lincoln’s log cabin birthplace. However, the Treasury ultimately decided to keep Lincoln’s iconic portrait intact but opted for a more modern, yet still historical, design for the reverse.

Lincoln Memorial Chosen as New Reverse Design

The Treasury Department chose the Lincoln Memorial to be the new design gracing the back of the penny. This classic American landmark honoring the 16th president was seeing rising popularity and visits in the late 1950s.

The Lincoln Memorial’s architect was Henry Bacon and the impressive statue of Lincoln seated inside was carved by Daniel Chester French.

On the morning of November 12, 1958, at the 50th anniversary ceremony held at the Lincoln Memorial, the new design was revealed to the public for the first time. The following year on January 2nd, the new “Lincoln Memorial cent” was released into circulation, replacing the wheat ears design forever.

It acts as a lasting commemoration of two iconic symbols—the leader who fought to unite his country and the monument where Americans gather to reflect on democracy.

While the days of the wheat ears came to an end in 1958, Abraham Lincoln remains America’s president of change.

Key Dates and Mint Marks for Wheat Cents

1909-S VDB Lincoln Wheat Cent

The 1909-S VDB Lincoln wheat cent is one of the most famous and valuable coins in U.S. numismatic history. The initials “VDB” stand for the coin’s designer, Victor David Brenner, and originally appeared on the reverse side below Lincoln’s shoulder.

However, there was some controversy over having the designer’s initials on the coin, so the U.S. Mint removed them starting in 1910.

The one-year type coin with the designer’s initials was struck at the San Francisco Mint in 1909, represented by the “S” mint mark. The 1909-S VDB cent had a modest mintage of just 484,000 coins, making it a significant rarity in high grades.

Today, an example graded MS-65 red by PCGS sells for around $2,300, while an MS-66 red example brings over $16,000.

1931-S Lincoln Wheat Cent

The 1931-S Lincoln cent is a semi-key date coin due to its low mintage of only 866,000 pieces. It was produced at the San Francisco Mint during the Great Depression when coin output was curtailed due to weakened demand.

Despite its mintage, the 1931-S cent is more available and affordable than the 1909-S VDB. In circulated conditions, it still carries a moderate premium over common dates. Uncirculated examples exhibit full red luster and razor-sharp strikes.

An MS-65 red specimen has a value close to $275, highlighting the premium for pristine examples of this semi-key wheat cent issue.

1955 Doubled Die Obverse

No list of important Lincoln wheat cents is complete without the famous 1955 doubled die obverse. The coin shows a dramatic doubling of Lincoln’s portrait and other elements on the obverse side, caused by the misalignment of the press dies.

The 1955 DDO cent was produced at the Philadelphia Mint, bearing no mint mark. Around 20,000 to 24,000 of the coins entered circulation before the error was caught. Today, the 1955 DDO stands alongside the 1909-S VDB as the wheat cent series’ most legendary rarities.

In low circulated grades, the 1955 doubled die wheat cent sells for upwards of $1,500. For crystal gems showing pristine red luster, this king of Lincoln cents can fetch five-figure prices at auction. A recent PCGS MS-67+ red example sold for an incredible $180,000!

Current Values and Collectibility

Condition Greatly Impacts Value

The condition of a wheat penny plays a major role in determining its current value. Wheat pennies in worn condition are common and worth nominal amounts – perhaps 10 to 50 cents depending on the severity of wear. However, examples in the mint state can fetch surprising premiums at auction.

For instance, an MS-65 red example recently sold for over $20 on eBay.

There’s a vast difference between a well-worn “Good” specimen showing considerable friction yet with a date still evident compared to a pristine “Mint State” example with its original luster. Collectors always place the highest values on coins showing little to no evidence of circulation.

An MS-64 red penny may bring 10 times more than one in G-4 condition.

Rare Key Dates Command High Premiums

Two key date wheat cents exist that specialists eagerly seek out – the 1909-S VDB and the 1931-S. Only around 500,000 of the ’09-S were made compared to 50+ million of other dates. The ’31-S had a distribution of under one million pieces. Mint State examples of either can easily sell for 4 figures.

Even circulated pieces in AG-3 fetch upwards of $200.

Besides those two famous rarities, certain semi-key dates also command sizable premiums, like the 1914-D, 1922 No D, and 1955 Doubled Die Obverse. The 1910-S, 1911-S, 1912-S, 1913-S, 1914-S, 1915-S, and 1924-D also register values noticeably greater than common dates of similar grade.

When Did The Wheat Penny End – Conclusion

In the nearly 50 years that the Lincoln wheat penny was produced, it became an iconic American coin design representing both President Lincoln and the nation’s agricultural heritage. While most wheat cents only have a nominal value, rare dates, and mint marks make certain specimens highly coveted by collectors.

We hope you’ve enjoyed learning more about the history of the wheat penny and why it came to an end in 1958. This classic coin series remains popular with collectors today.

Similar Posts