By Robert Taylor
I think many people of all walks of life have collected or still have “wheat” or “wheaties” pennies in their possession. Just what are wheat cents?
In 1909, the one cent changed over from an Indian Head design to the Lincoln Head design for the obverse and “wheat shafts” for the reverse of the new coin. Thus, the wheat shafts coined the term as they are known today as “wheat cents”.
Wheat cents began production in 1909 and they ended production in 1958. They were made for general circulation at the Philadelphia, Denver and San Francisco mint facilities. Thus on the obverse of the coin just below the date indicates which mint created the wheat cent. Philadelphia minted pennies have no mint mark. Denver minted pennies have a “D” and San Francisco minted pennies have an “S”. Highly struck proof issues were also created at the Philadelphia mint location and these were for special proof sets and not for general circulation.
Like many other coins, they were produced by the billions and over the years, many have disappeared from circulation. Some were hoarded by collectors. Others found their way into “good luck” fountains, tossed over Niagara Falls for luck or just tossed into difficult locations where retrieval was impossible. How many of us as children would place one on a railroad track and try to see what it looked like after a train ran over it?
There are still hundreds of millions of wheat cents surviving out there today. Sounds like a lot but remember, there were 30+ BILLION wheat cents created between 1909 and 1958!
Like other coins, production quotas varied each year. The rarest is a 1909-SVDB (indicates S for San Francisco and VDB is the designer of the coin, Victor David Brenner) with a 484,000 coin production quota. In comparison, the 1956 Denver minted coin was 1.1 billion.
I have seen very few of the 1909-SVDB rarities. They also produced another variety in 1909 at the Philadelphia mint called a “VDB”. Not very rare I’m afraid in normal circulation. The “VDB” initials are at the very bottom of the reverse of the coin.
Today, most circulated wheat cents are worth about two cents each. This includes the circulated “steel” cents of 1943 when copper was needed for the war effort. There are a few “s” mint cents in the teens plus the 1914-D minted cent that are worth much more than the many common varieties.
Pennies worth as a financial medium certainly has diminished. In a few years, I expect to see pennies eliminated from our monetary needs. Canada eliminated their penny about 5 years ago and it has caused no major problems. Today, it cost our government 1.7 cents to make one penny. Just about the same ratio for a five cent nickel also. ‘Does not make a lot of financial sense to continue this senseless effort.
Uncirculated wheat cents will have a much higher value than circulated cents each if you happen to have some.
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