Can you imagine meeting someone who is willing to pay you over $300,000 for a tiny piece of copper. Yes, such people exist, they are collectors of exclusive coins, and the little piece of copper I’m talking about is a valuable penny. Not valuable, very valuable.
In this article I am going to take a tour of all the most valuable penny coin types and designs. Those that collectors crave and are willing to pay big bucks for. It’s going to surprise you for sure, so stick around to the end.
What are the truly valuable pennies?
Some penny coins are very valuable to collectors. To give you an idea, there are several specimens that trade for millions of dollars. I’ll show you which ones these are below. But first, I’ll share with you some general information about pennies.
The penny is the smallest denomination since half-cent coins were discontinued in 1857. The official name for these coins is “Cent“, but many people refer to it as Pennies, which relates to its equivalent in British currency. When several coins are mentioned, the plural “Pennies” is used.
There are two types of cents, large and small. Large cents are those minted from 1793 to 1868. After this date, the dimensions of the coins are modified giving way to the small cents.
Large cents or Large cents coins
The large 1 centavo coins are those minted between 1793 and 1857. They are known as such as opposed to the pieces of this denomination produced after 1858, with smaller dimensions.
Large pennies are coveted by collectors and tend to be rare and expensive coins when in excellent condition.
1 cent coins Flowing Hair Chain 1793
The first 1 cent coin ever minted is known as Flowing Hair Chain, or Liberty with tousled hair. Yes, I know, the literal translation is horrible. These pieces are among the first coins minted at the U.S. Mint, which increases their value considerably.
The Flowing Hair Chain coins were minted in 13.48 gram copper coin blanks, with dimensions between 26 and 27 centimeters in diameter.
On the obverse we can see an image of Liberty a bit frightened, and with wavy hair in no apparent order. On the reverse the phrase ONE CENT is surrounded by 15 links that supposedly symbolize the unity of the States but that others relate to servitude and slavery.
Chain cents, as they are also known, have a low mintage making them rare and expensive. For example, the coin I showed you earlier was sold in 2008 for $126,500,000 at Heritege Auctions.
Flowing Hair Wreath pennies 1793
Very quickly the previous design was replaced by another known as Flowing Hair Wreath. Liberty is presented with a more stylized finish, and a decorative branch or garland (Wreath) is added below the bust. On the reverse side, the chains disappear. They are replaced by a somewhat undefined wreath of plants.
There is a variant of this one-cent coin, which collectors call “Strawberry Leaf”. They differ because instead of a garland, a branch with a different style can be seen below the bust. Some specialists say it is a strawberry branch, hence the name, but there is also speculation that it may be a cotton branch.
These specimens are extremely rare and the collector who wishes to acquire one will have to pay close to 900 thousand dollars for it. Undoubtedly a figure that will open the eyes of more than one.
Liberty penny coins with cap
During the last months of the same year, 1793, other modifications were made to the penny dollar coins. The branch or garland present is eliminated, and a Phrygian cap is added near Liberty’s head. The reverse does not undergo drastic changes.
The Liberty Cap cent design was used until 1796 to mint coins of this period. Prices for large Liberty Cap pennies are around $9,000 for examples in good condition. However, the record is held by a coin sold for $632,000 .
Draped Bust Penny Coins
The 1 cent coins known as Draped Bust appeared halfway through 1796 replacing the earlier Liberty Cap design. Among the pennies, I believe this is the design with the most variants and errors. This is why collectors love the Draped Bust pennies.
Normally one-cent coins of this period have on the obverse side a Liberty coin that wears a pleated garment, hence the name draped. Hence the name draped. And as a curious fact, this obverse is combined with three reverses with notable differences.
The rarest coins in the series are the 1799s, which fetch stratospheric prices when they appear at auctions or dealers’ stores. However, there is a variant known as the “three-error penny” that has sold for $138,000 .
Classic Head penny pieces
Starting in 1808, dollar cents known as Classic Heads were minted. In these pieces the bust changes, not only its design, but also the orientation of the gaze. Until 1814, 1-cent coins were regularly minted, with no outstanding surprises.
Classic Head 1-cent coins range in price from $250 to $4,000 depending on their condition. As uncirculated specimens are rare, they can trade for larger figures, reaching as high as $38,000 , a specimen auctioned at Bowers de Stack in 2020.
NOTE: In 1815 no 1 centavo coins were minted due to a fire at the Casa de Monedas. Production was resumed the following year with modifications in the design of the pieces.
Crowned Head cent coins
After a year of interruption in the minting of coins, in 1816 they began to produce cents of the Head with Crown type. The design of the 1 cent with crown coins is quite similar to the previous one, with some touches that make it look like Liberty is wearing a crown, hence the name. Also. A bow is added to the back of the head.
There are abundant coins and varieties in the designs of these pieces. If you get one in good condition you could sell it for between 50 and 8000 dollars for the rarest specimens.
1 cent coins Braided Hair
Once again, the design of the large pennies is retouched. This time, details are added to Liberty’s hair, mainly braids that go from the ear to the front of the bust. In addition, a thick ribbon is added, which was not present in her predecessors.
Braided Hair 1-cent coins, or Braided Hair, are starting to become affordable pieces for collectors. Therefore, it is much more likely to find one of these than other older pieces. Circulated coins, but in good condition, can be worth between $50 and $200 . Uncirculated specimens are much more expensive, fetching a few thousand dollars.
Small cents or Small cents coins
The small 1-cent coins appeared in circulation even before the large ones became extinct. Since 1856, the first coins began to be minted, in a format of 4.67 grams of copper, and 19 mm in diameter.
Flying Eagle Penny Coins
The first small size 1 cent coins are the well-known Flying Eagle. These coins show on the obverse side an eagle in full flight, looking to the left. On the reverse, the “United State of America” legend is eliminated and moved to the obverse, and the wreath of branches is opened slightly with respect to the previous design.
Flying Eagle pennies were minted between 1856 and 1858, so although they were large mintages, they are still rare compared to modern examples. Even so, cents in good condition can be had for between $40 and $300 . Uncirculated issues alone, with some errors, can fetch several thousand dollars.
Indian Head penny pieces
Now we come to a classic of American coin collecting. The Indian Head pennies. Indian Head cents were in production for a long period of time, from 1859 until almost the end of the first decade of the 20th century.
At least three types of Indian Head coins were minted during this time.
The first type was minted only in 1859, and can be recognized because it does not have the coat of arms on the reverse, which the other types do show. Being the first one, it is one of the most popular among collectors, and its value ranges between 600 and 2000 dollars depending on the conservation and if it has any remarkable detail.
Then from 1860 a shield was added on the reverse, just above the crown of branches, which also changed its design. This shield will be present in the following two types of design, which differ, fundamentally, in the metal that they were minted.
From 1860 to 1864 copper nickel cents were produced. After this date, and until 1909 the 1 cent coins are issued using bronze. The rarest and most expensive years are 1877 and 1909-S, San Francisco mint.
Just to give you an idea of the treasure you could have in your hands, if you ever find an 1877 dollar cent, in 1999 a specimen was sold at Stack’s Bowers for 71300 US dollars . That is a lot of money for a single piece, even though it is a very beautiful coin in good condition.
Lincoln 1 cent coins
In 1909 the new design of Lincoln Cents was launched, which is still in use today. It is interesting to note that that year coins were minted with both designs, the previous Indian Head and the new Lincoln bust.
Although technically after 1909 all pennies are considered Lincoln Cents, the reality is that several very different types and subtypes can be identified. They all have the same obverse, with Lincoln, but the reverse changes in different years.
Lincoln cents with ear of wheat
The earliest Lincoln type dollar cents are known as Wheat Reverso, or reverse herringbone. Wheat herringbone Lincoln cents were struck between 1909 and 1958, and there is a wide variety of these that collectors can track down and include in their catalogs.
An important fact is that there are two subtypes of Lincoln Wheat cents. Those minted in copper, which are the majority, and a lot struck in steel metal in 1943. Also, by mistake, some specimens were minted in bronze, which are rare and very valuable.
This bronze Lincoln penny you have just seen, was auctioned in 2021 for 372 US dollars . The specimen, in excellent condition, was marketed through Heritage Auctions.
Modern Lincoln Penny
Beginning in 1959, the reverse design of the Lincoln penny was changed to the variant that lasted until 2008. The wheat is replaced by an image of the Lincoln Memorial. The same building that is present on the valuable 5 dollar bills since 1928.
These 1 cent coins are also known as Lincoln Memorial Cents. These coins are tremendously affordable, so it is possible to complete entire sets with relative ease. On the other hand, if you have one in your hands and think you can get a small fortune out of it, I’m sorry to disappoint you, but you won’t.
Lincoln Bicentennial Coin (4 reverse designs)
In 2009, on the occasion of Lincoln’s bicentennial, a large run of commemorative pennies was minted. In fact, 4 different coins were released, depicting different aspects of the life of the former U.S. President.
These coins are easy to obtain and range in price from $6 to $15 when in good condition. There are some exceptional cases of bicentennial cent auctions that exceeded $1,000 . However, it is not at all common for these commemorative 1 cent coins to reach these values.
Reverse Shield Lincoln Penny Coins
To finish the list of 1 cent coins, we have the modern, circulating design of this denomination. The Reverse Shield cent, produced in copper and zinc since 2010, is loaded with U.S. patriotic symbolism.
What distinguishes modern 1 centavo coins is that they feature on the reverse a union shield with a scroll and the inscription ONE CENT. Needless to say, these pieces are very common, both in circulation and in numismatic stores in PROOF condition. Therefore, they are not valuable coins for which you pay, or are paid, a lot of money.
How do you know if a penny is valuable?
To find out if you have a valuable penny, it is essential to follow a series of steps that I will explain below. But first, let me warn you that if you have a modern coin that you found in circulation, chances are that it is not very expensive. Even so, check them all and keep your hopes up.
The first step is to identify the type and variant of 1 cent coins you have. For this, the most important detail is the date. If you have carefully read the entire article, you will surely know what type of coin it is. The biggest challenge is to recognize if you have a rare variant or a common coin, but for this you better consult a specialist.
The second step is to establish the price range in which the type and variant of penny you have is traded. The article I have posted right here can help you a lot to know the value of a coin with some degree of reliability.
Third step then is to find a collector interested in paying the value of the coin, assuming you have a little treasure on your hands. It will have to be someone who collects U.S. coins, or at the very least, likes U.S. cents.
Precisely this last step leads us to the next topic.
Where can I sell a 1 cent coin?
Valuable 1 cent coins have a whole market of collectors and enthusiasts willing to pay for them. However, it is a scattered market and not as accessible to someone outside the numismatic world.
So, to sell a 1 cent coin, once you have verified that it is valuable, you can turn to pawnshops or numismatic stores in your city. A quick search on Google Maps will tell you which stores exist where you are.
On the other hand, you can try your luck in market places like Amazon or eBay, where many people place their coins to sell them.
Now, if it turns out that the coin you have is a very valuable rarity, the kind that goes for thousands of dollars, then you should definitely opt for an auction house. Auction houses already have the conf idence of the public, and thousands of people who buy their coins from them.
The only drawback of the auctions is that the house will charge a portion of the sale as a commission. This means that you will not receive all the money for which the sale is made. Even so, it is a good business to trust these institutions, both to sell and to buy collectible coins.
Which of these coins would you like to find?
Now it’s up to you to answer. After perusing this mini guide to collectible pennies, surely there is one design or variant that you liked better than the others. I’d love to know about it. Leave me a comment so I can find out.
On the other hand, I hope the article has clarified many of the questions or doubts you had about valuable 1 cent coins. If so, you can share it on your social networks, or send it to your friends. Maybe they have one of these valuable pieces in their possession, and by reading this content they end up discovering a small untapped fortune.
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