1920 Wheat Penny: Heavy Circulation Takes A Toll On Available High Grade Examples

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Wheat Penny Overview

A unique coin that set a precedent for all future coins, the Wheat Penny was the first coin intended for circulation that featured the bust of a former President. Modern coins minted after the Wheat Penny began featuring other presidents, due to the great success of the Wheat Penny.

In an effort to replace the Indian Head Penny, the US Mint commissioned Victor D. Brenner to create the US penny’s new design. Brenner completed his revolutionary design in 1909, and later that year, it was put into production. Brenner’s design obverse design has stayed the same since 1909 and continues to be used today.

On the obverse, a bust of the 16th president, Abraham Lincoln, is centered facing right. “IN GOD WE TRUST” can be found centered above the bust of Lincoln. The date can be found to the right of the bust and “LIBERTY” to the left.

The reverse features a very simple design with the denomination “ONE CENT” and “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA” centered between two large wheat ears. “E PLURIBUS UNUM” can be found 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.

About the 1920 Wheat Penny

The most interesting fact about the 1920 Wheat Penny is that it was the second highest minted date in the series until 1939. The US mint at Philadelphia reports striking 310,165,00 examples. Just the year before, almost 400 million wheat pennies were minted.

A noted problem that tended to affect early date wheat pennies was the easy wearing of the rim. Most 1920 Lincoln cents that saw a large number in circulation tend to have their rims almost completely worn away.

Like all other wheat pennies, excluding the 1943 steel penny, the 1920 Wheat Penny was made of a 95% copper and 5% tin/zinc composition. Each has a diameter of 19.05mm and weighs 2.5 grams.

1920 Wheat Penny

Image Source Flickr user docbadger1

Grading the 1920 and Other Wheat Pennies

To get an accurate value for your coin, you must first determine what type of condition it is currently in. The better the condition, the higher the value.

Collectors currently use a 70 point grading scale to standardize the grading process. A “70” represents a perfect coin without a single flaw.

Here are some basic rules and guidelines to help accurately grade your Wheat Penny:

  • Good 4 - Entire coin shows a large amount of wear. Lines in the wheat stalks are completely destroyed. Rims are still intack.

  • Fine 12 - Wheat lines are now visible in the wheat stalks. Flat parts may be present on Lincoln’s face, mainly the jaw area.

  • Extremely Fine 45 - Most details are now visible and sharp. Some small areas of wear can still be seen.

  • Uncirculated 60 - No traces of wear evident. Some small contact marks are in areas that do not detract from overall look. Strong Red or Red-Brown mint luster is present.

1920 Wheat Pennies that have seen a large amount of circulation normally fall in the Good category. Higher grade examples are uncommon, but will normally be found somewhere outside of circulation (old collection or bank.)

Value of the 1920 Wheat Penny

Values for the 1920 Wheat Penny continue to be relatively low for grades below Uncirculated. The reason for these low prices is because of the large number of the 310 million minted that have seen large amounts of circulation.

Good 4 condition has a price of $0.20, and Fine 12 is valued at $.35. Extremely Fine 45 condition is where prices begin to increase greatly, where retail prices currently sit at $2.25.

Due to their increased rarity, Uncirculated examples command a much higher premium. Uncirculated 60 examples are worth $22, and MS-63 condition commands an almost 100% increase to $42. MS-65 condition is where the 1920 Wheat Penny becomes valuable, worth $260.

Due to the long time in circulation, most 1920 Wheat Pennies have been reduced to lower grades. This shortage of high grade examples is what has pushed prices much higher. If few higher grade examples are found, prices for uncirculated 1920 Wheat Pennies will continue to rise.

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