The Story Behind The Controversial 1909 VDB Penny & 1909-S VDB Penny

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Have you ever heard of the 1909 S VDB penny?

While you may know that the “S” is the mint mark (meaning it was struck at the San Francisco mint), did you ever wonder what the V.D.B. stood for?

V.D.B. actually refers to the designer of the Lincoln cent, Victor David Brenner.

There were also 1909 VDB pennies produced without the “S” which indicates that they were struck at the Philadelphia mint.

1909s-vdb-penny-reverse       1909s-vdb-lincoln-penny

Following is the story behind the controversial 1909 VDB cent and its designer…

How Much Are 1909 VDB Pennies Worth?

What would it cost you to get ahold of a V.D.B. penny?

In fact, you can buy a 1909 VDB penny for as little as $15 to $20.

Philadelphia produced almost 28 million 1909 pennies with the large V.D.B. on the reverse, and the Philadelphia V.D.B. penny is relatively common.

It is the San Francisco version of the 1909 V.D.B. penny that is so well known among coin collectors, investors, and the general public. Only 484,000 1909 s VDB pennies were struck at the San Francisco mint.

While nearly half a million may sound like a large number of pennies, when you consider the great demand for this particular coin, it then becomes no surprise why this coin easily commands $750 and up in well-worn grades.

Buying or selling old coins like the 1909-S VDB penny is quite a business, and one that requires lots of skill to do it right and make money in the process without getting burned by fake rare coins.

About The Designer Of VDB Pennies

Victor David Brenner’s story is as interesting as the coin he later would become famous for designing.

Brenner was born Viktoras Barnauskas on June 12, 1871 in Shavli, Lithuania.

He arrived in America in 1890 as an immigrant and eventually became a New York City jewelry engraver. However, he had long been interested in medals and sculpting, and he pursued opportunities to use his incredible sculpting and engraving skills.

Brenner went to Paris in 1898 and spent his 3 years there studying art. Upon returning to America, he created hubs and dies to make medals, but in 1904 he again returned to Paris.

By 1906, Brenner was back in New York City. In 1907, his fame was growing, and one of his most popular pieces was a plaque of President Abraham Lincoln.

In 1908, President Theodore Roosevelt chose Brenner to design a medal commemorating the Panama Canal. With the death of the famous artist and coin designer Augustus Saint-Gaudens in 1907, the U.S. Mint was looking for new designers to take over the work that Saint-Gaudens was slated to complete. President Roosevelt and the U.S. Mint knew who to contact when it came time to redesign the penny for the commemoration of the centennial of Lincoln’s birth: Victor David Brenner.

That very popular Lincoln plaque that Brenner designed a couple years earlier was a significant model that Brenner used for designing the new Lincoln cent. On August 2, 1909, the Lincoln cent was released to the public, to much fanfare.

However, there were some complaints about the prominence of Brenner’s initials (V.D.B.) on the back of the Lincoln cent. The initials are located under the wheat stalks.

The U.S. Mint responded to the criticism by removing the initials. Thus, the result is some 1909 Lincoln cents bear the V.D.B. initials, and others do not.

In 1918, the U.S. Mint restored Brenner’s initials to the Lincoln cent, but this time in a more discreet fashion — tiny initials under Lincoln’s shoulder on the obverse.

Whatever happened to Brenner? The Lincoln cent would be the only circulating U.S. coin he would ever get to design, though he did try multiple times to obtain other U.S. coin designing duties. He continued his work as a renowned artist and sculptor.

Brenner passed away on April 4, 1924, but his famous Lincoln cent is a lasting tribute that lives on.

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14 thoughts on “The Story Behind The Controversial 1909 VDB Penny & 1909-S VDB Penny”

  1. I’m 58 yrs old and I remember my brother who is a few years older was collecting coins when we were little children and he had a l909 vdb s penny and my sister would take coins from his collection and spend them and this penny was one of on the coins that she spent , coins can come and go but my brother and sister and still here .

    Reply
    • What a great lesson, Wonderheart! So sorry to hear that the 1909-S VDB scampered off, shall I say, but I’m very glad to hear that you and your siblings are all still together — and maybe can even share a good laugh or two about that 1909-S VDB cent!

      Reply
    • losing a 1909s VDB penny like that tells me that your sister had a streak of mean in her when she was little. She stole the most expensive penny in the Lincoln set… A full Lincoln set from 1909 to 1940 can bring anywhere between $1,500 to over $3,000, with that one penny being near impossible to find at a reasonable price today and NEVER in circulation…

      Reply
      • Ahh, never say never, Michael! There actually have been authenticated accounts of people finding the 1909-S VDB cent in circulation during recent years. In fact, noted numismatic scholar Scott Travers released one into circulation on live TV several years ago as part of an effort to engage more people in coin collecting.

        Reply
  2. Hello. I have a large 1909 S penny. I know its more then likely a fake collectors item or something. But it does not have the V.D.B on it. Does anyone know exactly where it came from, or what it is worth? I am not looking to sell it or anything, I just want to know all about it, since I can’t find anything about it anywhere! The information is greatly appreciated !

    Reply
    • they make fake replica coins and your large probably about 1 1/2″ across 1909s penny is exactly that, a replica. Real 1909’s are the same normal size and they made 1909, 1909s and 1909s VDB. You will most likely never find a 1909 coin in circulation…

      Reply
    • Hi, Tammra —

      A typical 1909 Lincoln penny in well-worn circulated grades is worth $3 to $5 while a 1909-VDB in the same condition is worth $10 to $15.

      Hope this info helps,
      Josh

      Reply
  3. I have a 1918 without mint mark or the V.D.B.. Is this even possible or has my coin been aided in its rarity?

    Reply
    • Hi, Timothy —

      I’d need to please see a photo of the coin to make sure, but chances are the “VDB” is either obliterated due to wear (by far the most likely situation here) or was obscured by a grease-filled error (probably not the case but plausible). I’d be glad to help further if you kindly upload a clear closeup photo of this 1918 penny with a focus on the area where VDB is supposed to be.

      Thank you,
      Josh

      Reply

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