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After years of writing coin articles, I have discovered that there is one coin everybody seems to always be asking about: pennies!
In fact, one of the most common questions people usually have about pennies concern which ones are the most valuable.
Thankfully for coin collectors, there are plenty of valuable pennies to be looking for.
Let’s take a look at 10 of the most valuable pennies among rare U.S. coins…
10 Most Valuable Pennies
Let’s start off this list of valuable pennies with the most expensive and work on down to the least-most expensive (make sense?).
Of course, there are always new price records being set and expensive varieties being discovered.
Just so you know, this list doesn’t count large cents of 1793 through 1857.
Yes, those are often referred to those large copper coins as pennies, too — but for the sake of this article, only small cents (those made since 1856) will be covered.
Lincoln Bronze Cents of 1943
Any of the 1943 bronze cents, as a group, currently belong to the heading of ‘most-valuable pennies.’ While the 1943 steel cent is a common coin, with hundreds of millions made, the United States Mint mistakenly struck somewhere between 20 to 40 of the 1943 cents from the bronze blanks normally used for pennies of other years.
A 1943-D bronze cent was recently sold for $1.7 million!
Other 1943 bronze cents have sold for between $80,000 and $200,000 in recent years.
1944 Steel Cents
OK, so we have the 1943 bronze cents… but have you heard about the 1944 steel cents? A reverse of the same mistake that caused the bronze cents of 1943 created a small number of steel cents the following year.
1944 steel cents don’t seem to have the same degree of attention that their earlier bronze counterparts enjoy, but 1944 steel cents are still highly rare and valuable.
In recent years, 1944 steel cents have sold for over $100,000!
1969-S Double Die Cent
Think Lincoln Memorial cents aren’t worth much? Think again. There are plenty of valuable Lincoln Memorial pennies, and the 1969-S double die takes the cake!
The doubling on the 1969-S double die (which is not a proof but, rather, a regular strike) is seen mainly in the lettering and date on the obverse of this rare coin. With very few in existence and ever-soaring demand, the 1969-S double die is easily worth over $50,000.
1856 Flying Eagle Cent
Our journey along the path of the most valuable pennies takes us back to the very first ‘small size’ one-cent coin in the U.S. Up until the late 1850s, our one cent coin had always been nearly as large as a half-dollar.
But waning purchasing power pressed the need for a small one-cent coin. Enter the 1856 Flying Eagle cent – the first official U.S. penny the size of modern-day one-cent coins.
Only 2,000 1856 Flying Eagle cents were made, and each is worth a pretty penny. Prices start at over $6,500 for well-worn specimens and tick up in value to over $15,000 for pieces in uncirculated grades.
1955 Double Die Cent
When the 1955 double die Lincoln cent first emerged, it quickly became a coin that everybody wanted but, due to low numbers of available pieces, not everybody could have. Today, the 1955 double die penny remains an extremely sought-after coin that is especially in demand among Lincoln cent collectors.
Doubling in the date and lettering is where coin collectors notice the ghost-like double image on this error cent that’s worth between $1,000 and $15,000.
1888/7 Indian Head Cent
This list of valuable pennies is mainly dominated by errors and varieties, and you’re probably beginning to see why — they’re generally rare and are pieces that many coin collectors love to own because they’re so neat.
The 1888 over 7 Indian Head cent is another one of those coins that are rare and sought-after by coin collectors.
While the Indian Head cent series is not nearly as widely collected as Lincoln cents, Indian Head cents are popularly collected by date and mintmark, and the 1888/7 Indian Head cent is one of those pieces that Indian Head cent lovers simply feel they have to have.
If you’re going to buy one, however, you’ll need to dig pretty deep into your wallet or purse… prices begin at around $900 for a well-worn example!
1877 Indian Head Cent
Think of the most popular rarity among Indian Head cents, and it’s likely your mind turns to the 1877 Indian Head cent. The 1877 penny is the stuff of Indian Head cent collectors’ dreams. And for good reason — it’s the rarest regular-strike coin in the series and downright expensive in even the most-worn grades.
A little more than 850,000 were struck (a tiny number by modern-day standards). Because the 1877 cent is required for completion of an Indian Head penny collection, there are simply not enough to fill every Indian Head cent collection.
Prices start at around $900 for a well-worn example and ascend into the $3,000 to $5,000 range for typical uncirculated pieces.
1909-S VDB Lincoln Cent
I bet you were wondering where this famous coin would show up on this list. Is there really any more popular of a coin in the world (outside of the 1804 dollar) than the 1909-S VDB Lincoln cent? I submit the answer is no.
Virtually everybody seems to know about ‘the 1909 penny.’ Now more than a century old, the 1909-S VDB cent has been building in both legendary status and value for generations.
What makes the 1909-S VDB cent so important is that it bears Victor David Brenner’s initials (VDB) and was made at the San Francisco mint (which is why there is an ‘S’ under the date). Only 484,000 1909-S VDB cents were ever made — and the number of people who collect Lincoln cents may be well into the millions.
Clearly, there simply aren’t enough 1909-S VDB Lincoln pennies to go around. If you can afford to lay out around $800 to $1,000, you’ll be able to buy a nice but well-worn 1909-S VDB cent for your coin collection. $2,000 to $3,000 will land you an example in uncirculated grade.
1922 Plain Cent
When people first found a 1922 penny without a mintmark, they assumed it was simply a Philadelphia version of a 1922 cent. That’s a perfectly reasonable assumption, especially since pennies made in Philadelphia — even to this day — don’t bear a mint mark. However, there’s one slight problem to that reasoning: Philadelphia didn’t make any pennies in 1922!
So, what caused the 1922 plain cent? Only Denver struck pennies that year (and not too many, either, at only around 7 million!). It’s believed that the ‘D’ mint mark was accidentally removed from the die (the stamp that impresses images on coins) when mint officials tried to fix damage to it.
You’re going to come across many 1922 cents that don’t have much, if any, evidence of a ‘D.’ However, the most valuable types of 1922 no-D Lincoln cents are those which have a weak-looking obverse (heads side) and strong, bold reverse (the tails side). True 1922 plain cents are worth around $700 to $1,000 in lower grades.
1909-S Indian Head Cent
1909 was a wild year for pennies. There are several cents from that year which are worth much, much more than face value. But the 1909-S Indian Head cent is the 2nd-most expensive penny from that year.
With only 309,000 made (less than even the 1909-S VDB penny), the 1909-S Indian cent is a sought-after rarity that is high on the list of those who collect Indian pennies. At around $400 to $500 for well-worn examples, the 1909-S Indian cent is a piece that any coin collector would be proud to own.
Here’s a video I made showing many of the rare and valuable pennies:
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!