I love collecting Lincoln pennies.
Most collectors know “pennies” are officially called one-cent coins. But, let’s face it, the word “penny” is hard-wired into the vernacular of most Americans.
Lincoln wheat cents were the first coins I ever collected when I jumped head first into numismatics as an 11-year-old boy in 1992. All these years later, I still enjoy collecting Lincoln pennies.
There are still many old wheat pennies and other old Lincoln cents in circulation, but it seems there are far fewer in pocket change today than when I first began collecting Lincoln cents in the early 1990s. It’s also become decidedly harder — and much more expensive — to assemble a collection of Lincoln pennies today as compared to what I paid years ago for these coins.
But thanks to a few tricks and tips, I’ve been able to complete a collection of Lincoln pennies and thought I should share my ideas with fellow Lincoln cent collectors.
Even if you don’t collect Lincoln pennies, you can still use my ideas with the coin series of your choice.
#1 – Build A Lincoln Penny Year Set
Many people assembling a Lincoln cent collection simply can’t afford the rarest pennies, such as the following:
If you can’t afford any of the above dates, a Lincoln penny year set (or the so-called “one-a-year” set) may be your best bet.
A Lincoln cent year set includes just 1 coin from each year the series was produced. This set significantly reduces the expense of “completing” a Lincoln cent collection.
If you build a Lincoln penny year set, the most expensive coins (those costing more than $2 each) that you would need to buy include the following:
- 1909 (Philadelphia, no VDB), $5 in Good-Very Good
- 1915, $2.25 in Good-Very Good
- 1922-D, $20 in Good-Very Good
- 1933, $2.50 in Very Good-Fine
You should be able to find an example for each penny of every other year since 1909 for less than $2 each, and most for well under $1.
#2 – Buy Cull Coins & Filler Coins
Whether you’re building a year set as in the above example or are going for a complete date-and-mintmark series set, buying culls (coins that have been cleaned or exhibit some form of damage) is a great way to fill holes in your folders or albums without breaking the bank.
Most coin dealers offer cull coins in discount boxes and bins, often for 50% off their regular, problem-free prices.
While you’ll probably prefer to buy better, problem-free pieces in the case of the more common, normally less-expensive Lincoln pennies, culls are great for affordably filling the more expensive album holes. You probably know which ones I’m talking about – those designated for the 1909-S VDB, 1909-S, 1914-D, 1922 plain, and 1931-S.
You may also prefer to buy rougher examples of the semi-keys pennies, such as the 1911-S, 1914-S, 1922-D, and perhaps the 1955 doubled die cent.
While cull specimens of the rare dates won’t be found in most coin dealers’ bargain boxes, since even the cull rare dates are still pretty valuable, you should still be able to score good deals on those pieces.
I’ve seen cull 1909-S VDB Lincoln cents selling for as low as $300 to 500 on eBay and at coin dealers’ shops in recent years. That’s certainly better than the $700 to $1,000 price tag on a problem-free, well worn specimen!
Before dropping any serious cash on cull coins, be sure you wouldn’t rather save your money a little longer and just buy problem-free examples of the coins you want.
#3 – Search Coin Rolls
It seems like many people think there simply aren’t any more “good” coins out there in circulation – that perhaps they have all been snapped up years ago.
While it’s true, you probably won’t find a 1909-S VDB penny in circulation (though not impossible), there are still many old Lincoln cents you can find in circulation these days.
I’ve found plenty of wheat cents just by searching the change from my cash transactions. However, you can significantly improve your odds of finding old Lincoln pennies if you buy penny rolls from your bank.
Though it’s unlikely you’ll find any Lincoln cent keydates or semi-keydates in rolls of pennies from the bank, you’re likely to find many common dates — saving you anywhere from 5 to 30 cents each over the cost of buying those same Lincoln cents from a coin dealer.
#4 – Buy Coin Albums & Folders That Don’t Include The More Expensive Coins
Over the course of 2 decades, I’ve seen more types of Lincoln penny folders, displays, and albums than I can count.
I also have come to find out which ones omit the most valuable keydates and varieties.
Here’s what I’ve found among some of the more popular coin albums and holders of the past and present:
- Whitman blue Lincoln cent folder, 1909-1940 – No 1922 plain penny required
- Whitman blue Lincoln cent folder, 1941-1974 – No 1955 doubled die penny required
- Whitman blue Lincoln cent album, 1909-1940 – Requires 1922 plain penny
- Library of Coins Lincoln cent album – Requires 1922 plain and 1955 doubled die pennies
- Dansco Lincoln cent album, 1909-date – Requires 1922 plain cent and 1970-S small date, but no 1955 doubled die or 1981-S Type II proof cents
- Meghrig 1909-1948-S Lincoln cent album – No 1922 plain cent required
- Meghrig 1948-D-1971 Lincoln cent album – Includes 1955 doubled die cent; no printed portal for 1970-S small date
- Treat Lincoln Penny Coin album – Requires 1909-S VDB, 1922 plain, and 1970-S small date but no 1955 doubled die required
- H.E. Harris Classic (blue) Lincoln cent folder, 1909-1980 – No 1922 plain or 1955 doubled die cents required
- H.E. Harris, colored cover 1909-1940 Lincoln cent folder – No 1922 plain penny required
- H.E. Harris, colored cover 1941-1974 Lincoln cent folder – No 1955 doubled die or 1970-S small date Lincoln pennies required
- H.E. Harris 1959-1998 Lincoln Memorial cent folder – No 1970-S small date cent required
- Littleton green album 1909-1958 – Requires 1922 plain cent but no 1955 doubled die penny
- Harco Coinmaster Lincoln cent album, 1909-1940 – Has space for 1922 plain cent
- Harco Coinmaster Lincoln cent album, 1941-1974 – Has two printed places for 1955 (Philadelphia) Lincoln cents, leaving room for a doubled die but no spot for the 1970-S small date
- Whitman Lincoln penny board, Volume 1 – Includes portal for “1922 Broken D,” which can be filled with a 1922 weak D cent
- Capital Plastics Lincoln cent display, 1909-1933 – 1922 plain cent portal is optional for new purchases
- Capital Plastics Lincoln cent display, 1934-1958 – 1955 doubled die cent portal is optional for new purchases
- Wayte Raymond Lincoln cent boards – No 1922 plain or 1955 doubled die required
*Based on my own observations; older or newer editions may not be exactly as described here.
I personally recommend that beginning collectors start with a cardboard coin folder for their circulated coins. Those are cheaper than the albums and display holders.
#5 – Look For Less-Expensive Stand-Ins
However, I know a lot of coin collectors go this route to fill expensive holes on the cheap.
There are basically 2 Lincoln pennies from the 1909 through 1958 era that are usually replaced with cheaper versions in albums or folders. They are:
- 1922 plain cent ($600+) — which is often replaced with a 1922 weak D (about $30 in Good-Very Good)
- 1955 doubled die cent ($1,000+) — which is usually replaced with a 1955 poor man’s doubled die (about $1 to $2)
More About Collecting Lincoln Pennies
- 43 Most Valuable Pennies To Look For
- How To Make Money Collecting Copper Pennies
- $1.3 Million Penny Collection Turns Into Jackpot
- How Much Is My Penny Worth?
- 1943 Lincoln Cents – The Value Of Steel Versus Copper Pennies
- Before You Buy Coins On eBay, Read This
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!