50 Little-Known Facts About The U.S. Penny (From 1787 To The Present)

Photo of author

By Joshua

Some little-known facts and amazing trivia about the U.S. penny that, as a collector of coins, you should definitely know!

I’ve got lots of fun facts for you about pennies!

Today, I’m going to share some little-known facts and amazing trivia about U.S. cents that, as a collector of coins, you should definitely know!

And, if you’re not a collector per se, then you can use these penny facts to broaden your basic knowledge about U.S. coins — and impress your friends.

Did You Know?…

After more than a century of production, the U.S. penny has produced a lot of interesting stories and tons of trivia!

How many of these U.S. penny facts are you aware of?…

#1 – The very first U.S. one-cent coin debuted in 1787, before the U.S. Mint was formed.

This coin was called a Fugio cent, and it served as the first official circulation coin of the United States.

Ben Franklin designed the coin.

The only year the Fugio cent appeared in circulation was in 1787.

#2 – In 1793, the U.S. Mint introduced the large cent.

These early pennies were huge… practically the size of a half dollar! 

Large cents were in circulation until 1857, and there were several designs throughout the years.

#3 – In 1856, the U.S. Mint introduced the small cent.

The small cent coin was the first U.S. penny made in a size that is similar to the pennies of today.

The Flying Eagle design was the first to appear on a small cent.

#4 – In the United States, the one-cent coin is not officially called a penny.

Even though most of us refer to the U.S. one-cent coin as a “penny,” the coin is technically called a “cent” in the United States.

Yep, the U.S. Mint officially named the coin a “cent.” And the U.S. Treasury officially called it a “one cent piece.”

It was during the Colonial period (when people used a mixture of coins from other countries) that a coin known as the British penny became popular. It was in 1857 that Congress asked the U.S. Mint to make the one-cent coin smaller.

#5 – In 1857, a penny would buy what costs about 30 cents to buy today.

Only today, we would pay for it with a quarter plus a nickel, or 3 dimes. Do we still need the penny?

#6 – The Indian Head penny was introduced in 1859.

Approximately 1.86 billion Indian Head pennies were made from 1859 through 1909.

Interestingly, the Indian Head penny does not actually have an Indian on it. It is, in fact, Lady Liberty wearing an Indian headdress!

#7 – The penny is not the lowest face value coin ever produced in the U.S.

From 1793 to 1857, the U.S. produced half cents. These coins are quite scarce today!

Other coins with denominations the U.S. used to make that we haven’t used in many years include:

#8 – Abe Lincoln was the first real person to have their face appear on a U.S. coin.

His face appeared for the very first time when the penny was redesigned in 1909.

The 1909 Lincoln penny also marks the first time that a U.S. president appeared on a U.S. coin.

#9 – Among all U.S. coins, the Lincoln penny holds the record for the longest-running design.

Yep, the Lincoln penny now represents the longest-running United States coin design — with the portrait of Abraham Lincoln remaining on the obverse (heads side) of the penny since it debuted in 1909.

To date, there have been a total of 11 U.S. penny design types:

  • Flowing Hair Large Cent (1793)
  • Liberty Cap Large Cent (1793-1796)
  • Draped Bust Large Cent (1796-1807)
  • Classic Head Large Cent (1808-1814)
  • Liberty Head Large Cent 1816-1857)
  • Flying Eagle Small Cent (1856-1858)
  • Indian Head Cent (1859-1909)
  • Lincoln Wheat Cent (1909-1958)
  • Lincoln Memorial Cent (1959-2008)
  • Lincoln Bicentennial Cents (2009, 4 designs)
  • Lincoln Shield Cent (2010-Present)

#10 – $200,000 is what it would cost to build a complete collection of Lincoln pennies.

That’s the estimated amount it would cost you to complete an entire collection of all Lincoln cents (from 1909 to the present) — with all major varieties and all pieces in choice uncirculated condition.

Here are 5 fun ways to collect Lincoln pennies!

#11 – There have been several notable changes made to the Lincoln penny.

Most of the changes fall into these 2 categories:

  1. There have been many different reverse (tails side) designs.
  2. The metallic compositions that have been used to make the Lincoln cent have changed several times over the years.

#12 – The 1909 VDB pennies were quite controversial!

Collectors love 1909 VDB Lincoln pennies, which bear the 3-letter initial of the coin’s designer Victor David Brenner.

But 1909 VDB cents created a stir when apparently some in the public felt Brenner’s initials were too prominent.

The U.S. Mint responded by removing the offending letters altogether after only a few weeks of production for the new 1909 Lincoln pennies.

This severely limited the mintages of the 1909 VDB and 1909-S VDB pennies — and this is, in part, why they are scarce today.

In fact, with only 484,000 of the 1909-S VDB Lincoln cents ever made, 1909-S VDB pennies are one of the rarest of all regular-issue Lincoln cents. It is estimated that only 50,000 or 60,000 still exist today!

#13 – You can still find “VDB” on Lincoln cents today.

In 1918, the U.S. Mint moved the VDB initials from the reverse to the obverse side of the coin — just under Lincoln’s bust.

The VDB is very small, but those letters are there!

#14 – Lincoln’s face is the only one on a U.S. coin that looks to the right.

All other portraits of people on U.S. coins face to the left.

#15 – The 1922 plain (no-mintmark) pennies were not made at the Philladelphia Mint.

If you thought the so-called 1922 plain pennies were made at the Philadelphia Mint (which historically didn’t place mintmarks on its coins), you’re not alone.

That’s what many coin collectors thought when these scarce 1922 pennies with no mintmark began turning up in circulation after their release.

Turns out this rarity was created at the Denver Mint when a mint worker trying to remove damage to the obverse die overzealously polished the dings… and the “D” mintmark!

#16 – The Great Depression (1929-1941) didn’t stop the penny like it did other denominations.

Production of pretty much every U.S. coin was put on pause during the economic pangs of the Great Depression — an era that spanned from 1929 through 1941.

But one coin that kept on truckin’ was the Lincoln cent. Yes, it did see reduced mintages during those times of lessening demand in commerce — but not like nickels, dimes, quarters, half dollars, silver dollars, and pre-1933 gold coins did!

While other U.S. coins saw preempted production issues during depression, the Lincoln cent carried on during the worst years of the Great Depression — even 1931, 1932, and 1933, when unemployment numbers skyrocketed to unprecedented heights in the U.S.

By 1934, the economy began showing flickering lights of hope and production of U.S. coinage picked back up again across the board.

#17 – The 1943 penny was made from steel!

World War II put a strain on resources — leading to rations ranging from nylon and rubber to oil and metals.

Copper was important for ammunition production. That’s why the U.S. Mint stopped making copper pennies in 1943, switching to zinc-plated steel that year instead.

Approximately 1.1 billion 1943 steel pennies were made. They are considered very common.

#18 – Some U.S. pennies stick to a magnet, while others do not.

  • The 1943 steel penny does stick to a magnet. (More than 1 billion of these coins were made.)
  • The few 1943 copper penny error coins that were made don’t stick to a magnet. (Approximately 40 were made and only 27 are known to exist.)
  • Some 1944 pennies were accidentally made from steel, and these do stick to a magnet. (Only 30 or so exist today.)

#19 – The most valuable U.S. penny is a 1943 cent that’s worth $1.7 million.

Of all the modern-era pennies (those made since the introduction of small cents in 1856), the 1943-D copper Lincoln penny is the one with the highest value. It was accidentally made on a copper planchet that was intended for 1942 pennies — instead of being made on the steel blanks used for 1943 pennies. Only one of them exists!

#20 – If you have a silver penny, it might be worth something!

Or, it might not. Here’s why…

This 1943 silver wheat penny is legit and rare.

However, many Lincoln pennies that look silver in color appear that way due to the fact that they have been used in scientific household experiments or they’ve been cleaned.

Here’s how to know for sure what you’ve got.

#21 – Copper pennies from 1944 to 1946 were made of shell casings.

The public didn’t much like the 1943 steel pennies. They were often mistaken for dimes, they rusted pretty quickly, and they just didn’t look like the copper pennies everyone knew.

In 1944 the U.S. Mint began striking pennies from copper blanks made from reclaimed ammunition shell casings. They continued doing so through 1946. They look virtually identical to regular copper pennies.

The date, inscription “LIBERTY,” and motto “IN GOD WE TRUST” are all heavily doubled on some 1955 pennies. This caused nationwide hysteria when such pennies began turning up during the height of popularity for the hobby of coin collecting!

Many other doubled die pennies have turned up since, including:

Yet, the 1955 doubled die penny easily remains the most popular and storied of them all. It is estimated that around 4,000 of these coins still exist today.

#23 – The last year that wheat pennies were made was in 1958.

The wheat penny was introduced in 1909 — and the series lasted until 1958.

It is estimated that about 200 million Lincoln wheat pennies are still in circulation today.

There are several scarce (but not necessarily rare) semi-key dates for wheat pennies that are regularly collected — with the goal of obtaining every single date and mintmark of that series.

There are also a few rare wheat pennies that collectors are on the hunt for.

#24 – The odds of finding a wheat penny today are about 1:200.

You would need to search through approximately 200 pennies in your pocket change and/or in coin rolls from the bank to find at least one Lincoln wheat cent.

#25 – The Lincoln Memorial penny debuted in 1959.

The Lincoln penny turned 50 in 1959. That’s the year the U.S. Mint redesigned the coin in honor of would’ve been the 16th president’s 150th birthday.

Frank Gasparro redesigned the Lincoln penny with a design depicting the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.

A total of 1.9 billion Lincoln Memorial pennies were made in 1959. The Lincoln Memorial penny was minted by the tens of billions in some years, and it remains highly common in circulation today.

#26 – U.S. pennies made from 1965 through 1967 don’t have mintmarks.

A massive coin shortage that began in the early 1960s (as silver prices quickly rose) led to changes at the U.S. Mint.

Not only were the dime and quarter debased of their silver and the silver composition of the half dollar reduced to 40%, but mintmarks were also removed from all new U.S. coins in an effort to discourage coin collecting!

In the case of these mid-1960s pennies, you can’t tell a Philadelphia penny from a Denver penny from a San Francisco penny. If you come across 1965, 1966, or 1967 pennies with no mintmark, that’s totally normal.

#27 – The 1974 silver penny is actually made of aluminum.

More than 1.58 million of the 1974 aluminum pennies were struck — merely as a test. At the time, the U.S. Mint was experimenting with different materials to reduce the cost of making pennies.

There were no 1974 aluminum Lincoln cents released into circulation, as the 1974 aluminum penny was immediately recalled for melting.

The majority of them were destroyed — including hundreds that were given to members of Congress and other officials.

However, not all of the coins were returned. There is a small number of unaccounted 1974 aluminum pennies that are still out there today!

#28 – It is illegal to own a 1974 aluminum penny.

1974 aluminum Lincoln cents are considered government property. They are, therefore, illegal to own.

#29 – You should save all pennies dated 1981 or earlier.

The reason you don’t want to spend these pennies is because they’re worth more than face value, simply due to the fact that they’re made of copper. Some even suggest hoarding copper pennies!

But wait there’s more…

Here’s a complete list of 43 pennies you should hold onto and not spend due to their increased value. (These are all pennies you can find in everyday pocket change!)

#30 – The last circulating copper pennies were made in 1982.

Rising copper prices led the U.S. Mint to dramatically reduce the copper content of the Lincoln pennies in the early 1980s. The last full year that copper pennies were made was in 1981, with the U.S. Mint transitioning to copper-plated zinc pennies throughout 1982.

The changes resulted in 7 different types of 1982 pennies, along with the extremely rare 1982-D small date bronze penny transitional error. (Here’s more about transitional error coins.)

#31 – In 1982 the U.S. Mint made 16.7 billion pennies.

That’s the most Lincoln cents the United States ever made during a single year.

#32 – Some 1992 pennies have the wrong design.

The U.S. Mint was in the process of reducing the spacing between the letters “A” and “M” in “AMERICA” for circulating 1993 pennies. But somehow a few 1992 and 1992-D Close AM pennies were struck and released by accident.

These rare pennies show virtually no gap between the bases of the letters “A” and “M.” These extremely rare 1992 pennies are worth thousands of dollars.

#33 – The last Lincoln Memorial pennies were made in 2008.

The long-running Lincoln Memorial reverse design was retired in 2008 after a 50-year stint on the Lincoln penny.

Most Lincoln Memorial pennies are pretty common (especially in circulated condition), and they are easily found in pocket change these days.

#34 – There were 4 different kinds of 2009 Lincoln pennies.

To honor the 200th anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln’s birth in 1809, the U.S. Mint placed 4 special reverse designs on 2009 Lincoln pennies.

The 4 designs showcase various chapters in the American icon’s life: his early childhood, his formative years, his professional life, and his presidency.

These 2009 Lincoln pennies are common coins and can easily be found in circulation.

#35 – A new permanent design for the U.S. penny was unveiled in 2010.

After the end of the 2009 Lincoln Bicentennial pennies, the U.S. Mint plastered a new reverse design on the centenarian Lincoln penny beginning in 2010.

The design by Lyndall Bass depicts a union shield that symbolizes Lincoln’s keeping the United States whole during the Civil War (1861-65) — which threatened to permanently tear the country apart during his presidency.

#36 – National One Cent Day occurs every year on April 1st.

How do you plan to celebrate?

#37 – The 2017-P Lincoln cent was the first penny to carry a “P” mintmark.

The U.S. Mint honored its 225th anniversary in 2017 by placing a “P” mintmark on pennies from the Philadelphia Mint, which had been established in 1792 as the first United States Mint.

This 1-year-only feature became quite popular with collectors. 2017-P Lincoln pennies can still be found in circulation.

#38 – The 2019-W Lincoln cent became the first penny to have a “W” mintmark.

Some 2019 Lincoln pennies boast the “W” mintmark from the West Point Mint.

The 2019-W penny is worth looking for in circulation — just in case some were broken from their mint sets and proof sets for collectors.

These are worth a lot of money today… like 1,000 times face value!

#39 – Approximately $62 million worth of pennies are lost in circulation each year.

That’s a lot of pennies removed from circulation!

How are they “lost?”

They’re either dropped on the ground (while paying for items at outdoor events or drive-thru windows), tossed (into fountains, trash, or the ground), lost (in sofa cushions, car seats, etc), or saved (in coin collections, piggy banks, and coin jars).

#40 – Find a penny and the “heads” side is showing?… Pick it up!

They say when you find a penny on the ground, if it’s “heads up” you should pick it up and you’ll have good luck! On the flip side, if the penny you find is “tails up,” then you’ll have bad luck if you pick it up.

#41 – It’s never too early to start saving pennies.

If you saved a penny a day every single day — from the day you were born until you turn 80 years of age, the grand total of your pennies saved would be $292.20 (give or take a few cents, depending on leap days).

Whether you save them as a coin collection or save them in a jar… it’s never to late to start saving pennies!

#42 – It is illegal to melt U.S. pennies.

It is currently illegal in the United States to melt pennies. Anyone who melts pennies to profit from the metal could serve up to 5 years in prison and pay as much as $10,000 in fines.

By the way, it’s also illegal to export U.S. coins for the purpose of melting them.

However, if legislation should pass to end production of the one-cent coin, it would likely become legal to melt pennies in the United States after that.

#43 – Travelers may legally carry up to $5 in pennies out of the United States.

If you’re traveling out of the USA, you can legally take up to $5 in one-cent coins with you.

You can legally ship $100 worth of U.S. pennies abroad for legitimate coinage and collecting purposes.

#44 – It is legal to turn pennies into art.

You’ve probably seen floors and tables decorated with U.S. pennies.

And you may have even worn a piece of jewelry that features one or more Lincoln cents.

In case you’re wondering, it is perfectly legal to make and use such items.

Technically, it is only illegal to deface U.S. coins in a “fraudulent” manner. So, as long as you’re not doing it to commit fraud (trying to use the coins as legal tender after being altered), then creating jewelry, furniture, and decor made of U.S. pennies is perfectly legal.

#45 – Elongated pennies are legal to make in the USA… but not in Canada!

You’ve probably seen penny pressing stations at amusement parks and tourist attractions. After you put your own penny into the machine, you get a slightly pressed coin in return. That alone is pretty cool, but you also get the benefit of seeing the name of the attraction (and sometimes the date) embossed onto your penny.

You might even recall the popular childhood experience of setting pennies on train tracks — with the hope of having a perfectly pressed penny after a train passed by.

These are called elongated coins and they’re perfectly legal to make in the United States. That is, as long as the coin is not being altered with the intent to counterfeit.

However in some countries this is an illegal practice. In Canada, for example, it’s illegal to mutilate the image of the Queen — whose face appears on Canadian coins.

#46 – The rarest U.S. penny is also one of the oldest.

Among the regular-issue pennies made by the U.S. Mint, the 1793 Liberty Cap large cent holds the record as the rarest penny in the United States.

#47 – There are 9 different types of penny errors that exist.

  • 5 of them are rare and hard to find — therefore, they are worth the most (up to $125,000)
  • 4 of them are common and easier to find — they are still worth a lot of money (up to $50 apiece)

#48 – You shouldn’t clean your pennies, but if you must… here’s how.

If you really want to clean your dirty pennies, the best way is to use this 2-step method:

  • First, smear ketchup on the penny. Then, take a toothbrush and lightly scrub the penny — working the ketchup into all of the fine areas, and rinse the penny under warm water. Most likely, your penny will look dull and have a pinkish color at this point.

  • Second, combine baking soda and a little bit of water — to form a paste. Rub this mixture all over the penny with your fingers. Doing so should bring the shine back to it! (You could also dunk your penny in bowl containing 1 part baking soda and 4 parts vinegar — instead of making the baking soda paste.)

This 2-step cleaning method can strip away dirt and grime from coins — and it works especially well on pennies.

However, it completely strips away the coin’s original patina, making it a worthless coin in the eye of collectors!

#49 – It costs 2.06 cents to make each U.S. penny.

So, for every penny the U.S. Mint makes… we, the taxpayers, effectively lose one cent!

#50 – Approximately 25,000 pennies will fit in a 5-gallon bucket.

Of course, it depends on the exact shape of the bucket and how the coins fall.

Little-known facts & trivia about U.S. pennies that, as a collector of coins, you should definitely know! How many of these 50 penny facts did you know?

How Much Are U.S. Pennies Worth?

Wondering how much your pennies from various years are worth?

Want to see a list of the most valuable pennies?

Here’s a list of the most valuable pennies that you can actually find in your spare change today:

Even More Fun Facts About U.S. Pennies!