155 Years Of The Small Cent: Rare Pennies Worth Looking For

small-cent-photo-by-mat-the-w.jpg Where were you in 1856? OK, consider that a trick question.

But can you tell me where the small penny was in 1856? 

How about you answer that with ‘first being minted for mass circulation!’

That’s right. The small cent was officially struck for the first time in 1856, and that means this iconic coin is now over 155 years old.

Let’s take a brief look at the small penny and some of the rare pennies that’ll keep you searching your pocket change and coin dealers’ cases for an example of your very own.


Over 150 Years Of Small Pennies

We call the pennies of today a ‘small’ cent because there are also ‘large’ cents — which preceded the smaller one-cent denomination and was last struck in 1857.

The large penny, as is the case for the one-cent denomination, had been in production since 1793.

However, as inflation made the value of the penny less and less, the lack of tolerance for having to carry around many large cents only grew and grew.

Hence, the end of the large cent and the beginning of a legacy of small pennies that continues to this day.

The Flying Eagle Cent Started It All

The first small penny to be officially struck for circulation was the 1856 Flying Eagle cent. The Flying Eagle cent didn’t last long as a design. In fact, the last was struck in 1858.

However, the Flying Eagle penny will forever hold the distinction as the first small cent produced in the United States and is a favorite coin among collectors.

Today, due to the coin’s very short, 3-year run, Flying Eagle pennies are often collected along with Indian Head cents, which succeeded the Flying Eagle penny in 1859.

Flying Eagle cents usually cost around $30 to $50 for a decent, worn specimen. Corroded and damaged examples can be had for less.

Indian Head Cents

In 1859, the small penny began a 50-year journey with the Indian Head cent.

It’s safe to say that the Indian Head cent has grown to enjoy a near-legendary status in American lore. Nearly everybody knows of the Indian Head cent and, even more importantly for the series, nearly everyone wants to have an example of this coin.

In general, you have to comb grey hair to ever remember a time when finding an Indian penny in pocket change was a reasonable possibility. While the last Indian Head penny was minted in 1909, it was still a fairly common occurrence to spot Indian cents in circulation right into the 1950s and 1960s.

Today, finding an Indian Head penny is a rare and novel find in circulation (though some still do turn up), so most people looking for an example of their own have to turn to coin dealers to buy one.

Even still, an Indian Head cent is not, in and of itself, a rare coin. Many were made by the millions. Worn specimens can be bought for under $5.

Lincoln Cents

And now we come to the Lincoln cent — the longest running obverse design in United States coinage history.

First minted in 1909 and designed by Victor David Brenner, the Lincoln cent has grown to become an icon all its own. People around the world recognize the Lincoln penny, and nearly everyone alive in this nation today was born during the series’ run.

It’s pretty hard to imagine the world without the Lincoln cent, though there are people out there who would like it gone. Why? Well, for one, it costs nearly 2 cents to mint each penny. Many pennies never make it past one or two transactions, since so many are squirreled away in jars and piggy banks. Too many Lincoln cents are discarded or destroyed because they make subjects for cheap science experiments, aren’t worth enough in some people’s eyes to save, or are simply a nuisance.

Still, though, this is the penny we’re talking about — a denomination that dates back centuries and was born in England.

  • "A penny saved is a penny earned" ~ Benjamin Franklin

Rare Pennies

Many pennies are worth far more than a single cent. In fact, there are several that’ll bring you hundreds of dollars… or more.

This list isn’t inclusive of all the scarce pennies, but it’s a good look at the most valuable and rare pennies coin collectors vie for.

*Values are approximate and are for coins in Good-4 grade unless otherwise indicated.

  • 1856 $6,500
  • 1877 $800
  • 1888/7 $2,600
  • 1909-S (Indian Head) $475
  • 1909-S VDB (Lincoln) $750
  • 1909-S (Lincoln) $100
  • 1914-D $225
  • 1922 plain $700
  • 1931-S $100
  • 1943 copper (Extremely Fine) $50,000 to $100,000
  • 1944 steel (Mint State) $100,000
  • 1955 doubled die $950
  • 1969-S doubled die (Mint State) $50,000

Joshua McMorrow-Hernandez

My love for coins and numismatics began when I was 11 years old. I primarily collect and study U.S. coins produced during the 20th century. I've also been studying meteorology and watching weather patterns for years. I enjoy sharing little-known facts and fun stuff about coins, weather, travel, health, and living green with others.

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Fun From Around the Web

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_MKRS3Y6WEVV5RTDJDLBWM2W6OU Cheryl

    1956 penny

    • Anonymous


      A 1956 penny is worth around 3 to 5 cents.

  • Branu_debarge

    i have a 1943 pennie its not copper nor silver but brass looking almost like gold is that possible it has not been circulated and from what i was told by a coin shop tamperd with but they havent sen anything like it before do u know what it is?

    • Anonymous

      Branu —

      Does your 1943 penny stick to a magnet? If it does, it’s a regular 1943 steel cent that was coated with another metal, perhaps brass or even gold plating (but gold plating adds perhaps only a few cents to the value of the coin)

      If it doesn’t stick, it sounds like you have a brass replica of a 1943 copper penny.

    • Mr. Lincoln

      In 1943 they made steel pennies due to the war, they needed to use copper for other means at the time.

  • Ct0305

    i have a 1901 indian head penny , does anyone know how much its worth

    • Anonymous

      Yes, CT — Your 1901 penny is worth $2 to $5 in typical circulated grades.

  • Turtleboy

    i have a 1969 penny and i have no clue if its worth anything or just one cent.

    • Anonymous

      Turtleboy, a worn 1969 penny has around 3 cents’ worth of copper, but it can’t be legally melted. So, effectively, it’s worth just one cent.

  • Vamorse

    found a1851 one cent denomination pennie to day it is in very good condition .Any one out have any idea what it might be worth?

    • Anonymous

      Yes, Vamorse – assuming that your 1851 has a typical amount of wear and has no damage (meaning, no holes, bends, discoloration, or signs of cleaning), then your coin is worth at least $12 to $15.

  • Donny1556

    is a 1918 penny worth anything?

  • Tiffanydione

    My uncle has a penny (not sure what year yet) but it has Lincoln saying “Four score and.”  Any idea what that would be worth?

  • Mapleknkr

    hey,  are 1888 Indian head pennies really worth that much ?

  • Roywaterman71

    I have a 1975 lincoln penny that has 1976 stamped on the front coverin the whole fron of the penny is this worth money and keeping??

  • Roywaterman71

    I have a 1975 D penny that has covering the whole front of the penny in giant numbers 1976, is it worth anything or something someone did after it was minted?

    • Anonymous

      Roy, it sounds like you have a novelty bicentennial penny. The 1976 date was added by a private minting company. Such pieces have nominal value, perhaps 50 cents to $1. 

  • Saenz22brayan

    I have a 1969 s penny mint state any buyers




  • Sherry

    2 cent pennies circulated between 1864-1873 but i have an 1899 2 cent penny and can’t find any info on it can you help

    • JoshuaTheFunTimesGuide


      You’re right, the United States produced 2-cent coins from 1864 through 1873. Would you please post a pic of your coin here in the comments forum so we can take a look at it and try to identify your piece? Thanks!

  • Teharlan

    Was beginning to feel ancient tonight at dinner tonight with several friends when old money was brought up and no one remembered the red and green mills.  Were they only used in Missouri? All folks from out east never heard of them and there were some people there older than me!!!!!   Would like come comments….Thanks, Sharon

  • R Beard3507

    I have a penny that hasn’t bn struck on either side. If anyone has an idea how much its worth send me an email at r.beard3507@Gmail.com

  • Jbrophy103

    My father in law passed away recently and he had me hold onto his coin collection. My question is… I came across a 1903…2.5 penny. I can not locate any info on the internet about this specifc coin. It is in pristine condition.  Can you provide any information regarding this coin

    • JoshuaTheFunTimesGuide


      Would you please post a pic of your coin here in the comments forum? Perhaps we can determine what type of coin you’re in possession of and what it may be worth.

  • martha


    • JoshuaTheFunTimesGuide


      Yes, a 1944-D Lincoln cent is worth around 5 cents.

  • http://www.facebook.com/andrew.capamaggio Andrew Capamaggio

    I have a 1969 penny but i dont know what it means about the s double die

  • Bill

    I have a Double Clash 1976 penny. It has the Lincoln Memorial on the obverse side (on top of Abe’s face) , and another Lincoln Memorial on the reverse side (on top of the Linc Mem that should be there)

    Is this coin worth anything?

  • Ernie Lore

    How much do u want for all those coins? My email is ernie.lore@aol.com

  • Hope Esperanza

    Wheatback Lincoln pennies didn’t debut until 1909 and they replaced the wheatback indian head pennies. Wheatback indian head pennies debuted in 1859 and are worth a little bit more then wheatback Lincoln pennies. I can’t tell you what 1888/7 means though.

    • JoshuaTheFunTimesGuide

      Hi, Hope –

      The 1888/7 refers to an 1887 Indian Head cent coin die (the device that imprints an image upon a coin) that was overwritten so it would produce 1888-dated pennies.