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Want to know what your 1990 penny is worth?
I’m going to help you figure out whether or not you have the rare 1990 penny worth thousands of dollars, and I’ll also shed light on the value of other 1990 pennies.
What Is A 1990 Penny Worth?
As you’re looking through your 1990 Lincoln Memorial pennies, you’re probably checking to see if any of them have no letter under the date — because of something you heard about them being worth a lot of money.
It’s true. A San Francisco proof 1990 penny with no S mintmark is worth thousands of dollars.
But how do you tell a 1990 no S penny from a Philadelphia 1990 penny — which also has no mintmark? We’ll explore that in greater detail below.
First, let’s talk about how much 1990 pennies are worth:
- 1990 Philadelphia (no mintmark) penny – 6,851,765,000 (6.85 billion) minted, 10 to 25+ cents
- 1990-D (Denver) penny – 4,922,894,533 (4.92 billion) minted, 10 to 25+ cents
- 1990-S penny – 3,299,559 minted, $3+
- 1990 No S penny – estimated less than 200 exist; $2,750+
*Values are for 1990 pennies that are either in uncirculated grade or struck as proofs. Worn 1990 pennies with no errors or varieties are worth face value.
What Does A 1990 No S Penny Look Like?
Below are photos of 2 coins:
- One is the rare 1990 No S penny.
- The other is a common 1990 penny from the Philadelphia Mint — which did not place mintmarks on its one-cent coins in 1990.
Here’s how to tell a 1990 No S penny apart from a regular Philadelphia 1990 penny…
#1 – The 1990 No S Penny
This is the obverse (head’s side) of a legit 1990 No S Lincoln penny:
It’s the real McCoy — the coin that so many people hope will turn up in their pocket change.
A few things stand out about the 1990 No S penny pictured above from Heritage Auctions:
- This coin has an extremely well-struck bust portrait of Abraham Lincoln.
- The flat surfaces (which are known as fields) are shiny and mirror like.
- The raised areas — such as Lincoln’s head, the date, and the lettering — are frosted.
- And, of course, this coin has No S mintmark.
Unfortunately, it’s extremely unlikely this coin will ever turn up in circulation.
That’s because all 1990 No S pennies were made only for special collectors’ sets — proof sets. All 1990 No S pennies were minted for regular proof sets and prestige proof sets (the latter of which also contain the 1990 Dwight D. Eisenhower Centennial commemorative dollar). And coin collectors are very well aware of the 1990 No S Lincoln penny. They search all of their 1990 proof sets to see if they have the 1990 penny error.
Since 1990, only about 200 of these No S pennies have been accounted for, and there are very few 1990 proof sets left have not been searched. That said, there are presumably a few unsearched 1990 proof sets that were ordered but never opened.
This means your best bet of finding a 1990 No S proof penny is by searching through every 1990 proof set you encounter. You might get lucky — and there is a real chance (albeit very slim) that you might find a 1990 No S penny that way.
Now, let’s take a look at the type of 1990 no mintmark penny you are more likely to find in your spare change…
#2 – The 1990 Philadelphia (No Mintmark) Penny
This is a 1990 penny from the Philadelphia mint, which has no mintmark:
You might notice that this penny looks very much different than the 1990 No S penny photographed above.
Here are some of the things that set the 1990 Philadelphia penny apart from the 1990 No S penny:
- It doesn’t have the proof finish — the fields aren’t reflective and the devices aren’t frosted.
- It isn’t as well struck. Yes, yours might “look perfect” and seem to show all of the details on Lincoln’s bust, but it just won’t appear as sharp as the proof penny.
- Because the circulation die that struck the Philadelphia penny wasn’t prepared like a proof die, and because the planchet (the blank coin) wasn’t polished as a proof coin would be, the circulation strike — even a super shiny one — just doesn’t look as sharp as the proof version.
If you find a worn 1990 penny like this one in your pocket change, it’s worth only face value.
However, you might be glad to know that nice, uncirculated 1990 Philadelphia pennies have a value of about 10 cents and up.
Why Was The 1990 No S Penny Made?
A lot of folks wonder how the 1990 No S penny error came to be.
The amazing thing is that it ever came to existence at all. It was made about 5 years after the U.S. Mint stopped punching the mintmarks onto coins individually. That means the die that struck the 1990 No S penny is actually a 1990 Philadelphia (no mintmark) die.
Here’s where the story gets even crazier…
The 1990 Philadelphia die was accidentally sent to the San Francisco Mint, where most proof coins have been made since 1968. The San Francisco Mint officials began preparing the 1990 Philadelphia die as if it were a proof die — and apparently they didn’t notice the missing “S” mintmark on the die. So, the die was mounted to the press and away it went — striking 1990 No S mintmark pennies.
Presumably, Mint officials eventually realized that there was an issue — because while the average Lincoln cent proof die struck 3,000 to 4,000 pennies in the early 1990s, only about 200 of these rare coins have been found.
Sure, there’s a chance there are still a few floating around unnoticed in proof sets. But it’s perhaps more likely that several hundred 1990 No S proof pennies were discovered at the Mint and destroyed once the mistake was noticed. As we’ve found out, at least 200 or so managed to escape!
There are other no S proof coins out there, too, including:
- 1971 No S Jefferson nickel
- 1968 No S Roosevelt dime
- 1970 No S Roosevelt dime
- 1975 No S Roosevelt dime
- 1983 No S Roosevelt dime
What Else Happened When Your 1990 Penny Was Made?
The year 1990 was filled with many news, culture, and entertainment headlines. Here are just a few things that happened in 1990:
- Tim Berners-Lee created the HTTP language that gave rise to the modern-day Internet.
- One of the first major websites to come online was IMDb.com — which started off as a list of “actresses with beautiful eyes.”
- 13 paintings worth $500 million were stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, becoming the world’s largest private property heist.
- The first documented crash between 2 airbag-equipped cars occurred — occupants of both vehicles walked away with minor injuries.
- Muppets creator Jim Henson died at the age of 53.
- Top songs in 1990 included “Nothing Compares 2 U” by Sinéad O’Connor, “Vogue” by Madonna, “Ice Ice Baby” by Vanilla Ice, “Enjoy The Silence” by Depeche Mode, “Close To You” by Maxi Priest, “Because I Love You” by Stevie B, “Groove Is In The Heart” by Deee-Lite, and “U Can’t Touch This” by MC Hammer.
- The Best TV shows in 1990 were Seinfeld, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, The Simpsons, Cheers, Full House, The Cosby Show, and Saved By The Bell.
- Hit movies in 1990 were Home Alone, Dances With Wolves, Ghost, Dick Tracy, Goodfellas, Total Recall, Edward Scissorhands, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and Pretty Woman.
More Info About Pennies
In addition to the links I’ve included above, here are some other resources to help you learn more about your 1990 penny and other old pennies:
- Tips For Collecting Proof Lincoln Memorial Cents
- A Brief History Of The Penny
- Which Old Pennies Are The Most Valuable?
- Old Copper Pennies: Which Ones To Save & What They’re Worth
- A List Of 43 U.S. Pennies Worth Holding On To
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 CDN Publishing (a trusted source for the price of U.S. rare coins), 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 also authored nearly 1,000 articles here at The Fun Times Guide to Coins — and I welcome your coin questions in the comments below!