You may think that a penny isn’t worth much, so it’s easy to overlook. The fact of the matter is that a penny is already worth more than it’s worth because it cost 1.82 cents to make a one-cent piece these days. You might even have a penny that’s worth lots more in that jar of change that you’re stashing away to save for a rainy day. Several older, rare pennies have fetched large amounts at auctions, but you might even have a penny in your pocket that’s worth enough to buy a nice dinner.
What to Look for in a Valuable Penny
It can be easy to look past a valuable penny, but if you know what to look for, you might spot something surprising. Older pennies, especially those minted during the World Wars, are hot items for collectors. Look closely at any pennies that you have that are 20 years old or more and see if you notice errors in the engraving. Grab a magnifying glass and look for unusual spacing between letters or words or letters that are too close together.
If you have a penny that has a double-die, you might have something worth taking to a dealer. A double-die happens when the mint accidentally presses a second image on to the coin, creating misalignment. On a double-die coin, words like “LIBERTY” or “IN GOD WE TRUST” will look like there’s an extra word printed on top of the first word. As with all rare coins, the better condition the penny is in, the more value it could potentially have.
Where Do You Go If You Think You Have Something Rare?
If you think you have a valuable penny in your hands, you should take it to an auction house for closer inspection. Many auction firms are willing to look at your coins for free, and they know what to look for. They can also help you walk through the steps of getting your coin certified, and they can take you through the selling process.
Don’t go into an auction company with dollar signs in your eyes. Even if you have a rare penny, it may not be worth nearly as much as your hopes and dreams. Be realistic about fetching money for an old penny, and don’t set yourself up for disappointment by thinking you have a treasure on your hands when you may only receive a small amount of value.
The Most Valuable Pennies on the Market
Pennies that fetch high amounts at an auction are rare, but it’s worth looking through your change to see if you can find something valuable. Many of the most valuable pennies in circulation date back to World War I and World War II, such as the 1944 steel wheat penny, which the United States Mint created when copper was needed for the war effort. This penny can fetch between $77,000 and $110,000, depending on condition. The 1943 copper wheat penny was one of the rare copper pennies from the war, and it can earn $60,000 to $85,000 at an auction.
Indian Head pennies from the 1870s can be worth $1,000 or more, and pennies from 1909 issued in San Francisco can fetch around $2,000 if they’re in the right condition. As always, the condition of the pennies will play a large factor in how much they’re worth and how much you can get for them when you have them auctioned off.
Some of the Most Expensive Pennies of All Time
Two pennies at different auctions raked in astonishing amounts at auctions in recent years. When Don Lutes of Pittsfield, Massachusetts, was in high school in 1947, he received a 1943 bronze Lincoln penny ― a penny that the U.S. Mint released in error. It was unusual enough that he set it aside and held onto it until his death in 2018. Before he died, he arranged to sell it an auction to benefit a local historic landmark, and the rare penny sold for $204,000 in January 2019.
The American penny dates back to the 1790s, but it’s rare that you’ll find one in your stash of coins. One of the first pennies ever minted in the U.S. was the 1792 Birch cent, named for its engraver, Robert Birch. Experts believe that there are only ten of these still in existence, and the one in the best condition sold for an almost unbelievable $2,585,000 in 2015. Just one day earlier, a 1793 chain penny sold for $2,350,000 - the record until the Birch Cent auction.
Numismatics is the name for the hobby of collecting coins. Some collectors acquire rare coins for their value, while others enjoy collecting unusual and fascinating coins that don’t necessarily hold much value. Many numismatists start with collecting rare pennies just for fun.
Coin collecting experts recommend starting with looking at the pennies you have in your pocket or change jar for something rare, unusual, or old. You can also purchase sets of older coins if you want to keep them for your own collection. Collectors sometimes even build specific collections based on date, minting errors, or other categories.