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The 1959-D wheat penny is a very famous mule coin — one of the best known and most valuable mule coins around.
What is a mule coin? A mule coin is a type of error coin that has an obverse (heads side) and reverse (tails side) not typically seen on the same piece. A mule coin consists of 2 coins that wouldn’t ordinarily go together.
This rare penny is worth a whopping $50,000 — that’s a pretty penny indeed for this unique wheat cent!
Just one of these old wheat pennies is known to exist.
Making things even more complicated is the fact that some numismatists don’t even know if this is a real coin. You see, there’s absolutely no record that the United States Mint made it — even though the Secret Service has provided written documentation that it’s genuine.
There’s a fascinating story behind the 1959-D penny error. Read on to find out more about this unusual coin of unknown origin…
The Mystery Of The 1959-D Wheat Penny
As most coin collectors know, Lincoln wheat pennies were struck from 1909 through 1958. Beginning in 1959, the reverse of the wheat cent was redesigned with the Lincoln Memorial motif to honor the 150th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birth in 1809.
Until 1986, it was always assumed the last Lincoln wheat pennies were made in 1958. Or were they?
That’s the question a retired California police officer named Leon Baller wondered after placing an ad in his local newspaper offering to buy rare coins. He received an inquiry from a reader on an odd 1959-D penny with wheat ears instead of the Lincoln Memorial on the reverse.
Baller paid $1,500 for the coin — unsure if it was real or not. He then sent it to the U.S. government for verification of its authenticity.
Here’s what the U.S. government said…
The coin was returned to Baller, along with a note signed by Special Agent for the Department of the Treasury Richard M. McDrew. The note states:
“Enclosed is your United States 1¢ coin, dated 1959-D, with wheat reverse. This coin was microscopically examined by our Forensic Services Division in Washington, D.C. and it is their opinion the coin is genuine.”
Baller sold the coin in 1987. It later turned up in the hands of coin collector Larry Choate, who re-submitted the coin to the U.S. government for further testing. (Choate took a big risk in doing this — because if the coin was counterfeit, it would’ve been confiscated. And if it was illegally made at the Denver Mint, the penny could’ve been confiscated for that reason, too.
The government once again said the 1959-D penny was genuine and deemed it a legal tender Lincoln cent. The coin was returned to Choate with a long letter explaining that multiple tests had been conducted on the mule penny. According to the Secret Service, everything about the coin checked out as genuine — including its weight, metal composition, surface details, and other physical characteristics.
So, Did The US Mint Really Strike The 1959-D Penny Error?
No record is known to exist of the 1959-D wheat penny ever being made. And the big coin grading firms such as Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS) and Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (NGC) can’t find any evidence the US Mint struck this coin. Therefore, neither of these companies has decided to certify or grade this coin.
But does that mean the coin was NOT made at the US Mint? NO!
In fact, many coins have been “unofficially” struck at the US Mint — like these:
- The 1913 Liberty nickel is one of the rarest U.S. coins around. As it turns out, the 1913 Liberty nickel was struck at the US Mint without authorization. It’s now one of the most valuable coins of all time, selling for more than $4 million!
- A unique 1970-S proof Washington quarter struck on a 1941 Canadian quarter was made in much the same way. The unique error, worth about $35,000, was likely struck as a gag by a US Mint employee and escaped the mint facility.
Some believe the 1959-D penny error was also made as a one-off piece — perhaps struck as a prank, a gag, a dare, or even the intentional attempt by a worker to make a unique coin that someday could become very valuable.
How Much Is The 1959-D Wheat Penny Mule Worth?
The 1959-D mule penny sold for $50,000 in 2019, after being offered by famous numismatic auctioneers Ira & Larry Goldberg.
It’s possible that as time goes on, coin collectors may be able to identify what pair of dies was used in striking the 1959-D penny error. If they can do this, or if one of the slabbing services like PCGS or NGC decides to certify and encapsulate the coin, the 1959-D wheat cent may become worth even more.
This is, after all, one of the most unique, controversial, and colorful mule error coins in the hobby.
The verdict is still out on how this coin was made — but there’s no question any coin collector would be proud to own it.
Talk about a conversation piece!
I’m the Coin Editor here at TheFunTimesGuide. My love for coins began when I was 11 years old. I primarily collect and study U.S. coins produced during the 20th century. I’m a member of the American Numismatic Association (ANA) and the Numismatic Literary Guild (NLG) and have won multiple awards from the NLG for my work as a coin journalist. I’m also the editor at the Florida United Numismatists Club (FUN Topics magazine), and author of Images of America: The United States Mint in Philadelphia (a book that explores the colorful history of the Philadelphia Mint). I’ve contributed hundreds of articles for various coin publications including COINage, The Numismatist, Numismatic News, Coin Dealer Newsletter, Coin Values, and CoinWeek. I’ve authored nearly 1,000 articles here at The Fun Times Guide to Coins (many of them with over 50K shares), and I welcome your coin questions in the comments below!
26 thoughts on “This 1959-D Wheat Penny Is A Mule Coin Worth $50,000… See Why This Mule Error Coin Is So Rare And Valuable!”
Hello Josh, just starting out and wondering how does one go about to appraise then sell any rare coins?
Hi, Thomas —
Great question! A formal appraisal could happen by taking your coins to a coin dealer and having him or her provide you with an approximation of what they’re worth. You may ask for value of the coins if they were sold or, if for insurance purposes, retail value.
However, as you wish to sell, your best bet is to take the coins you hoping to sell to two or three dealers (if you’re lucky enough to have that many in close proximity) and sell them to the dealer offering the highest amount.
Here’s more info on how to find a good coin dealer: https://coins.thefuntimesguide.com/coin_dealer/
And here’s a searchable directory of coin dealers: https://www.greysheet.com/DealerDirectory
Hi Joshua i have this coins how is the value
Hi, Younis —
The value for these is about two cents apiece for the copper content of the pre-1982 cents. The ones made after are worth face value.
Hi Joshua what do you mean face value
Hi, Younis —
Face value is the amount this coin is intended to be worth if you spend it as money. For example, the face value of a dollar coin is one dollar.
Hope this helps,
Hi, Nima —
Nice 1959-D cent. Based on seeing only the front, it’s worth about 2 cents for its copper content, but it has nice, original color.
I have one. A 1959-D wheat penny. Never been sent off to be graded. I got it in some change when I bought breakfast at the hospital. I don’t know anything about sending coins off. Can someone help me please firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
Hi, Rachael —
Would you please upload at least THREE clear photos of this coin, including its front, back, and edge. Knowing the weight of this coin would also be helpful, please — down to at least the tenth of a gram.
I cannot seem to upload here because of the size and I do not know how to change the size. Can I email them to you? firstname.lastname@example.org is my email
Hi, Rachael —
While all images and questions/answers will need to kindly be posted here, please and thank you(!), have you tried exporting the images to JPG files and/or slightly reducing the size of the files? I hope these thoughts help.
I am not computer/phone savvy but I will try
Thank you, Rachael!
THANK YOU JOSH!
You’re welcome, Rachael!
https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/ef7d95e58d0b33adf53e55fdb1a04209fa1e3a91206a6a5964b252252c77d3db.jpg https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/770865b265c990ace0c2c4903e0705eceefe1aae50baaf7f160cf598fb586c86.jpg https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/e8b7f5edaf65c15ef874036334e530a0ae0f220740209950fa12e10e738d82c7.jpg
Hi, Rachael —
Thank you for the weight info and the photos… I don’t have the coin in-hand to see for sure but I’m calling this a replica based on a variety of surface and details anomalies. Of first concern are the heavy lines and weakness in the lettering on the reverse around STATES AMERICA; that strikes me as possible electrotyping, a process used in creating casts of coins. While you might be best served sending this into an authentication service, I’m frankly not sure I’d hold my breath on this one.
I’m crossing my fingers for you!
I finally figured it out! And it weighs 3.35 grams
Hi Josh, I need your help, is this 5 cents 1966 FS
Hi, Meho —
I generally don’t provide grading opinions but based on what I see in these photos it appears your nickel may have too many breaks in the step lines toward the edges to be considered for a Full Steps designation.