Wheat Penny Overview
First minted in 1909, the Lincoln cent was the first coin to feature a past US president. The public loved the addition of Abraham Lincoln and celebrated the new one-cent piece. Even today, Lincoln’s bust can be found on the front of one-cent pieces.
Victor Brenner was the designer of the Lincoln cent and was determined to make a simple but effective one-cent piece design. Brenner famously used a bust of Lincoln but also used a wheat stalk reverse to commemorate the United States agricultural background. This is how the coin became known as a “Wheat penny.”
On the obverse, a bust of 16th president, Abraham Lincoln, is centered facing right. The motto “IN GOD WE TRUST” is centered along the top rim. The word “LIBERTY” is found in the left field while the date and mintmark (If minted at Denver or San Francisco) are in the lower right field.
The reverse is just as simple as the obverse and features two wheat stalks; the words “ONE CENT” and “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA” are between them. “E PLURIBUS UNUM” is centered at the top of the reverse.
If you want to learn more about the Lincoln Cent or other rare and collectible cents, be sure to read our Ultimate Guide to Pennies.
History of the 1915 Wheat Penny
An early date in the Wheat penny years, the 1915 Wheat penny had a lower mintage than later dates in the series. This makes the coin slightly scarcer than later dates.
Minted at Philadelphia (noted by the lack of a mint mark), the 1915 Wheat penny had a mintage of 29,092,000 coins. For early-date Wheat pennies, this is a slightly below average mintage figure.
Wear during circulation can easily be seen on most early-date Wheat pennies. Smoothness on devices and lack of rims is a common occurrence on most 1915 Wheat pennies.
Like all other Wheat pennies, excluding the 1943 steel penny, the 1915 Wheat penny was made of a 95% copper and 5% tin/zinc composition. Each has a diameter of 19.05mm and weighs 3.11 grams.
Cleaned and Worn Early Wheat Pennies
Because most early-date Wheat pennies have been in circulation for a much longer amount of time than those in the ‘30s–’50s, they tend to be in lower grades. These lower-grade coins normally are very worn and are missing rims or significant details.
Heavily worn coins are normally worth very little because better examples do exist. Worn Wheat pennies tend to have shiny surfaces (sometimes due to cleaning, more on that in a bit) that are also significantly flat. Details in Lincoln’s head are completely gone and just an outline can be seen on most worn examples.
Other areas affected by wear are the rims on the obverse and reverse. Worn coins are normally missing their rims, which is why the details have been worn flat.
Collectors also need to be on the lookout for early Wheat pennies that have had been cleaned. Normally, cleaning has been done to take some type of gunk off the coin since pennies collect a lot of stuff on their surfaces.
In any case, cleaning a coin 99% of the time completely ruins it and almost all collectors refuse to buy cleaned coins. Cleaned Wheat pennies do end up in the marketplace, but can normally be identified quite easily.
Cleaned Wheat pennies normally are too shiny for their grade. A coin that is in Good 4 condition but reflects light like a mirror is more than likely cleaned, since circulation tends to dull a coin, not make it shiny. Another way to tell if the coin has been cleaned is if the coins shows small microscratches across the fields and devices of the coins.
No matter how the coin was cleaned, its value has been brought to zero. Resellability has been destroyed and, to experienced collectors, the coin will easily been seen as having been cleaned.
Valuing the 1915 Wheat Penny
Since most 1915 Wheat pennies will be in grades lower than Extremely Fine 40, the prices will be lower.
Good 4 examples are valued at $1.15 and Very Good 8 rise to $2.50. A rise in price to $5 can be seen in grade Fine 12 and a price of $18 is achieved in Very Fine 20. Extremely Fine 40 has a current retail value of $47.
Uncirculated examples are much rarer and command much higher prices than circulated examples.
MS-60 examples have a current retail price of $90. Price jumps to $130 with just a 3-point increase to MS-63. Premium grade MS-65 has a current value of $260!
The above prices were for coins that were in brown condition and did not have the original red mint luster. Coins that have a full red luster are worth considerably more.
It is estimated that less than 2,000 1915 Wheat Pennies still exist in Mint State condition, which is why the uncirculated examples command such high prices, compared to similar dates in the series.