The Lincoln Cent: The Perfect Collectible Coin


The Lincoln cent may be the most collected coin in U.S. history. Millions of Americans have at one time or another amassed Lincoln pennies. For many, the lowly one cent coin was their entry into the hobby.

Today the Lincoln cent remains a mainstay of the numismatic world and is still a wonderful way for new collectors to enter the fascinating world of coin collecting.

In fact, not only do our current pennies have a new “Shield” reverse engraving, but just recently a surprise issue was released.

Without fanfare, a very important numismatic treasure entered circulation in 2017. The 2017-P Lincoln cent is the very first U.S. penny to bear Philadelphia’s “P” mintmark. Since 1793, cents produced in Philadelphia have carried no mintmark. This unique, one-year-only type was quietly output in recognition of the principal Mint’s 225th anniversary.

Why Lincoln Cents are the Perfect Collectible:

In its over 100 year run, the Lincoln cent has had a number of design changes making the series especially interesting for numismatists. And since all four of the reverse engravings can be found, at least occasionally in pocket change, it makes for an easy collection for beginners.

On the Lincoln penny’s 50th anniversary in 1959, the Lincoln Memorial reverse replaced the long-standing “Wheatie” design. In 2009, to celebrate the bicentennial of Abraham Lincoln’s birth and 100 years of the Lincoln cent, four one-year-only engravings were released to honor the famous president’s birthplace, formative years, professional life and presidency. Since 2010, the Lincoln penny has featured a “Shield” reverse design.

Although you can’t find too many early dates in circulation, there are still a wonderful variety of affordable coins to get new collectors started.

Collectible From the Very First Issue:

Continuously minted since 1909, the Lincoln cent is the oldest type of U.S. currency still in everyday use. Introduced on the 100th anniversary of Lincoln’s birth, it is the first circulating U.S. coin to bear the portrait of a president.

While the Lincoln image won universal acclaim, there were strenuous objections to the designer’s initials appearing too prominently on the reverse (or back) side. It was a long-standing tradition for the designer’s initials to appear on coins, but most were inconspicuous. However, the “VDB” was as visible as a mintmark, appearing in the open space below the wheat sheaves of the reverse. Three days after the Lincoln cent’s triumphant release, the Secretary of the Treasury insisted that new dies be made without the initials. The Philadelphia Mint had already released 27 million “VDB” pennies and the San Francisco Mint an incredibly small number of 484,000.

Ever since, the 1909-S VDB issue has remained the key rarity in the circulation Lincoln penny series.

Where to Go From Here:

You can start your Lincoln cent collection right now! I’ll bet you have a penny or two in your pocket, your desk drawer or under your couch cushions. Start with those and work toward a full collection. Penny folders are a great help to keep you organized.

Watch your change and continually replace pieces when you find the same issue in better condition. You’ll want to be sure to watch for mintmarks as well as dates. The mintmark is below the date on the obverse (or front) of the coin. This tells you what U.S. minting facility produced the coin. A complete collection will include not just one coin from each year of issue, but one from each mint that produced coins that year.

Once you’ve gone through your own penny stash you can ask friends to exchange their pennies for paper money or you can go to a local bank and ask for rolls of pennies to search. Once you get started you’ll never look at a penny the same way again!

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