Which penny is the most valuable? The sight of a penny lying on the ground is so common that most people don’t even think to stop and pick it up. But some pennies are worth far more than their one-cent face value. If you have a jar full of old pennies sitting around collecting dust, it’s worth digging through to see if you have any rare and valuable specimens.
If you don’t have time to read through this full guide, here’s the quick answer: The most valuable penny is the 1943 Lincoln wheat penny made of copper. These rare pennies are worth over $100,000 due to a unique metal shortage during World War II.
History of the Penny and How Errors Boost Value
The Lincoln Penny’s Changing Compositions Over the Years
The composition of the Lincoln penny has changed several times since its introduction in 1909. Originally made of 95% copper and 5% zinc and tin, in 1943 the penny was temporarily made of zinc-coated steel to conserve copper for World War II.
This year saw one of the most famous errors in minting history, the 1943 copper penny, of which only 40 are known to exist. These rare coins are worth up to $200,000 today.
In 1962 the composition was changed again to the current 97.5% zinc and 2.5% copper cladding. This change has led to some deterioration in quality over long circulation periods. But well-preserved Lincoln pennies from the 1960s can still be worth $5-10 compared to their face value of 1 cent, especially proofs and uncirculated specimens.
Wartime Metal Shortages Result in Valuable Errors
World War II caused several minting errors in U.S. coins that are now highly sought after by collectors. With copper and nickel needed for the war effort, substitutions had to be made in coin compositions.
While steel cents were intentionally produced in 1943, some copper blanks and dies remained in the presses, resulting in extremely rare and valuable coin errors. About 15-20 1943 bronze cents are known to still exist, with recent sales over $200,000.
Similarly, a small number of 1944 steel cents were minted when leftover steel blanks from 1943 were accidentally mixed with 1944 copper blanks. These reporting errors and crossovers between years give certain Lincoln pennies added numismatic appeal and value.
The Top 5 Most Valuable Pennies
Collecting pennies can be an enjoyable hobby that also has the potential to be lucrative. While most pennies are worth around 1-5 cents, some rare editions can fetch upwards of thousands of dollars at auction. Here are the top 5 most valuable pennies that collectors should keep an eye out for.
1943 Copper Penny
The 1943 copper penny is by far the most famous and valuable penny, with specimens selling for as much as $200,000 to serious collectors and investors. This rare coin was created by accident when the U.S. Mint was minting steel pennies to conserve copper for World War II.
A small number of copper blanks got caught in the presses and were struck into pennies. Only around 20 1943 copper pennies are currently confirmed to exist.
1969-S Double Die Obverse Penny
The 1969-S double die obverse penny is another famous rarity in mint errors. On this coin, the date and motto show dramatic doubling from being struck multiple times. About 100,000 of these coins got out from the San Francisco Mint before the error was caught.
High-grade versions of this penny have sold for over $70,000 at auction.
1922 Plain Penny
While not technically an error, the 1922 plain penny stands out for lacking the traditional “V” mintmark used on pennies struck at Denver. Only around 25 or so of these odd coins are known to exist. The most recent specimen sold in 2020 for an impressive $332,000 at Heritage Auctions.
1955 Double Die Obverse Penny
Yet another famous doubled die rarity, the 1955 DDO penny shows strong doubling of the date, letters, and motto from multiple misaligned strikes. Around 20,000-30,000 of these “poor man’s double eagles” got out of the Philadelphia Mint.
Well-preserved specimens can easily fetch five figures at auction. One nearly perfect example sold for over $29,000 in 2008.
1944 Steel Wheat Penny
The 1944 steel penny looks much like its 1943 copper counterpart in reverse. A small number of copper blanks found their way into the presses in 1944 as the Mint was still striking steel cents for the war effort.
Only around 20 legitimate specimens are confirmed, making this one of the rarest coin varieties around. The most recent private sale recorded for one of these rarities was over $100,000 in 1999.
Tips for Identifying Valuable Pennies
Date and Mint Markings
When looking for rare and valuable pennies, checking the date and mint mark is the first step. Certain years and mints produced fewer pennies, making those more scarce and desirable to collectors. According to the Professional Coin Grading Service, the top valuable pennies by date and mint include:
|$1,000 – $10,000+
|$200 – $500+
|1955 Double Die Obverse
|$1,000 – $50,000+
When checking dates and mint marks, use a magnifying glass to see the year and tiny letter markings. Pre-1982 pennies should say the date and either no mint mark for Philadelphia, a D for Denver mints, or S for San Francisco mints.
Weight and Color Tests
Along with visually inspecting dates and mint marks, performing some physical tests can help determine if you have a copper-based rare penny versus a zinc-based common one:
- Check the weight – Rare and older pennies dated before 1982 are 95%-98% copper. They noticeably weigh 3.11 grams versus the 2.5 grams of zinc pennies.
- Use a magnet – Common zinc pennies are weakly magnetic. Valuable copper pennies are not magnetic at all.
- Look at the color – Rare copper pennies have a distinct, darker orange-red hue versus the light brown zinc pennies.
There are also error pennies that exhibit unique production oddities. Some of the most valuable error pennies include the 1995 doubled die penny worth up to $50,000 and the 1937 “one over one” penny with a value of around $12,000!
With some simple tests and research, an antique jar of old pennies you find could produce quite the cash-out!
How to Sell Valuable Pennies
Selling valuable pennies can seem daunting, but with some basic knowledge, you can successfully turn your rare coins into cold hard cash. Here are some great tips for selling your valuable Lincoln cents and other rare pennies.
Know Your Pennies’ Value
First things first – you need to know the approximate value of your pennies. Look up reference guides like the Red Book or online coin price guides to see what your coins are worth based on year, mint mark, condition, and scarcity.
For example, a 1943 bronze Lincoln cent in mint condition could fetch over $200,000 at auction due to its extreme rarity. Even common wheat pennies in good shape can sell for a small premium over face value.
Get Your Coins Graded
Once you identify valuable coins, consider getting them professionally graded and certified by services like PCGS or NGC. This gives each coin an official condition grade and credibility for buyers. Grading fees start around $30 per coin.
A certified coin in a protective plastic holder tends to sell for more – sometimes drastically more. For ultra-rare coins like the 1943 bronze cent mentioned earlier, grading is a must.
Sell on eBay or Specialty Markets
Now you’re ready to sell your graded or “raw” valuable pennies. Popular options include:
- eBay – Large market for selling coins directly to collectors.
- Coin shows – Set up a table or walk around to show dealers your coins.
- Coin dealers & collectors – Get quotes from professional buyers.
- Heritage Auctions – Consign valuable coins/collections for public auction.
Compare prices between these options to maximize sale value. Rare coin markets wax and wane, so time your sale right.
Consider Donating for a Tax Break
Finally, if your valuable pennies are extremely significant from a historical perspective, consider donating them to a museum. You may qualify for a tax deduction to save money during tax season.
Every rare and old coin has a story. With some savvy and strategy, you can give your valuable pennies a worthy second act – whether collecting cash, educating the public, or a little of both!
Which Penny Is The Most Valuable – Conclusion
While most pennies are only worth their face value, there are certain rare dates, mints, and errors that make some specimens extremely valuable to collectors. Always be on the lookout when sorting through pocket changes or inherited collections.
The penny thoughtlessly dropped on the sidewalk could potentially be worth a small fortune!