The Lincoln Wheat Penny

Jeff Leftwich asked:

The Lincoln Wheat Cent is often referred to as the Wheat Penny. It was produced from 1909 to 1958.

President Theodore Roosevelt was an art lover and felt that the coins in America paled to the artistic renditions of other countries. The wheat penny was designed by Victor David Brenner and featured a portrait of Abraham Lincoln on the front with two stalks of wheat on the back. Initially, Victor David Brenner’s initials were placed on the wheat penny but public outcry motivated the U. S. Mint to remove them. Wheat pennies with the designer’s initials are considered more valuable and only 484,000 were produced. Even poor-quality 1909-S VDB wheat pennies bring hundreds of dollars. The value of wheat pennies drastically increases if it is in mint condition and can bring as much as $6000 to $12,000 dollars. Another wheat penny of great value is the 1914-D. Approximately 1.2 million was minted. They have been documented to be auctioned for as much as $16,000 if they were uncirculated.

A Brief History about the Wheat Penny

It was considered unacceptable in America to place an image of a real person, living or dead, on circulating coins. The only representation of a person at this time was Miss Liberty or the Statue of Liberty. However, slain president Abraham Lincoln was a respected icon and after President Roosevelt saw Victor David Brenner’s bronze rendition of Abraham Lincoln, he formed the idea of paying tribute to him by representing his image on the Wheat Penny.

During the time of WWII, copper was considered a vital material. In response to finding a material to replace copper, the US Mint began making steel pennies with zinc coating in 1943. The coins rusted and the zinc plating became worn very quickly. The following year, copper was again used to make wheat pennies with recycled gun shell casings. The decision to use postwar military recycled materials was basically the US Governments way of conserving limited metal resources.

In 1955, the US Mint made a rare minting error that resulted in approximately 20,000 to 24,000 wheat pennies being double minted. Even though the mistake was discovered before these wheat pennies were released, it was decided to release anyway with the hopes that the mistake would not be discovered. The publicity that the error generated began a huge interest in coin collecting and especially those with die errors.

In 1959, in honor of the 100th anniversary of the birth of Abraham Lincoln’s, the Lincoln Memorial Wheat Penny was redesigned by Frank Gasparro. His design replaced the two wheat stalks on the back with a portrait of the Lincoln Memorial.

In 1982, the Mint transitioned from different alloy types. At this time, there should have been four different Lincoln Cent varieties. However the Mint made a rare die change in 1982 making “Large Date and Small Date” varieties. After all changes were made, there were seven major circulation types of the 1982 Lincoln Memorial Penny.

Wheat Pennies Today

Most wheat pennies are held in private collections and are a standard collectible coin in the US.

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One Response to “The Lincoln Wheat Penny”

  1. Dave Wiegers says:

    Victor David Brenner was the artist that sculpted the bas relief Lincoln profile for the penny. He was greatly admired as a sculptor by President Theodore Roosevelt.
    Occasionally you can find a copy of the orignal bronze bas relief on sale on eBay. There is a copy of the relief in the Visitor’s Center of the Lincoln Family Home in Springfield, IL.

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