Finding Rare Pennies

Rare pennies were created throughout the history of U.S. coinage. Early cents, dating back to the beginnings, especially before 1857, are all scarce. Others rarities are the result of low numbers minted.

Finding a scarce penny in your box of old coins involves identifying dates and mintmarks. However, nice condition coins are surprisingly valuable. Pennies are the staple of commerce and after decades of use, simply wear out. Few were saved in the early years. Nice, finely detailed coins are becoming very collectible.

Early Era Rare Pennies

US cent production began in 1793 with the striking of what are known today as “large cents”. Over time these became the first rare pennies. The economy needed circulating coinage and the early cents saw active use.

Large cents are a classic and historically significant part of US coinage. Large in size, larger than today’s quarter, and avidly collected today. Minted from 1793 through 1857, all are desirable. Here are a few of the classic rare large cents.

  • 1793 Chain Type: First US cent, first of three designs in 1793, very scarce.
  • 1793 Wreath Type: A modification of design and necessary to all important collections of large cents.
  • 1793 Liberty Cap: Liberty redesigned. A few thousand minted and only a small number remain.
  • 1795 Large Cent: Scarce in any condition. If hair detail is showing in Liberty’s portrait value rise by hundreds of dollars.
  • 1799 Large Cent: An iconic rarity to the large cent coinage. A key to the series, exact mintage unknown. Estimated less than 150 survive. One of the intensely sought rare pennies of the series.

Any large cent is considered a desirable coin. These are collected in all grades, with many collectors making the series a specialty.

Introduction of the Small Cents

1856 saw a change in size of the US Cent denomination. Pennies were reduced from the old large diameter to the size in circulation today. First new design; the Flying Eagle cent was short lived. A significant premium is placed on all in pleasing condition.

The Indian penny was first minted in 1859 and was immediately an important part of the US economy. Millions were minted and most circulated widely. 1877 is the key date rare penny of the Indian series. Less than one million 1877 cents struck and all are worth hundreds.

Rare Pennies of the Twentieth Century

Popularity and Valuable Pennies

Collectors are the base to values of old coins. Their interest varies, in terms of series to collect, and personal budget. Pennies of many values are popular with today’s collectors.

A 1903 Indian penny is not a rare date; many are available today. The quality of the coin is what interest collectors. Heavy wear is the typical condition of these old pennies. Most stayed in circulation for decades. This penny still shows many of the smaller details of the design and is pleasing despite the wear. Many collections would include an Indian penny in this condition.

The 1943 is the “steel” pennies of the Lincoln Wheat series. Popular and in demand because of its one-year type statis. A fascinating coin and always popular with new and beginning collectors.

High grade Wheat pennies of the Lincoln series are part of many collections. 1909 through 1958 is the Wheat Reverse design and many collectors focus on the series. Early years 1909 through the mid 1930’s are often found heavily worn. Later years, the 1940’s to 1958 were saved in quantities and usually found in better condition. Pleasing coins with light wear or better condition are premium pennies of the Wheat series.

★Coin Values Discovery… finds the Value of Rare Pennies and… All old U.S. coin values. It is an excellent index with images and text links to all coin series, from Cents to Gold. Value charts, grading images and descriptions uncover how much your box of old coins is worth.


US Mint. 1948 US Mint Annual Report. US Mint. Catalogue of Coins of the United States.