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1920 Penny Value: A Normal Wheat Penny With Some Abnormal Prices

1920 Penny Value: A Normal Wheat Penny With Some Abnormal Prices

History and Production of the 1920 Lincoln Wheat Penny

The year 1920 was momentous, in the United States. The Census of 1920 reported more than 100 million people for the first time in American history. Prohibition began; in the election of that year, Warren Harding became President, promising a “return to normalcy.” Movie celebrities became prominent; Douglas Fairbanks married Mary Pickford in 1920, to became Hollywood’s first prominent star couple. A single penny couldn’t purchase much, but two of them could send a letter.

By 1920, the Lincoln penny had been in production for eleven years. The coin had been introduced as part of the general redesign of coinage requested by President Theodore Roosevelt, which saw all American coin patterns then in use replaced by works from artists and sculptors not affiliated with the Mint. Augustus Saint-Gaudens, then the most famous of American sculptors, undertook the redesign of the gold coinage, while humbler coins were assigned to others. Victor David Brenner, a sculptor and engraver, was assigned work on the one cent piece, and devised a design based upon a portrait of the sixteenth President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln. The reverse of the coin featured two wheat stalks, formed as a sort of wreath around the value, “One Cent.” The year and mint mark were placed on the obverse of the coin, to the right of the image of Lincoln. The design was immediately popular when it appeared, and has continued in use ever since.

All three United States Mints struck Lincoln wheat pennies in 1920. As usual, the Philadelphia Mint struck far and away the most pennies, and as was customary, these all have no mint mark. Denver and San Francisco each struck far fewer pennies, and these have “D” and “S” mint marks respectively. The total number minted was 405,665,000 one cent pieces, between the three mints, distributed between the mints according to the chart below:

MintCoins Struck
Source: Red Book

How Much is a 1920 Lincoln Penny Worth?

1920 Penny Value Chart
Uncirculated MS63Uncirculated MS65Uncirculated MS67
1920 1C BN$22.95$81.00
1920 1C RB$27.00$130.00
1920 1C RD$43.20$286.00$6,000.00
1920-D 1C BN$122.00$488.00
1920-D 1C RB$195.00$650.00
1920-D 1C RD$312.00$1,800.00
1920-S 1C BN$182.00$748.00
1920-S 1C RB$325.00$1,620.00
1920-S 1C RD$1,090.00$19,200.00

In general, two factors drive the value of coins, or any other collectible object. The first is scarcity. How common is the coin? How many were made, and how many survive. The second is condition. A nicer coin, in excellent condition with its details intact, will fetch a better price than a battered, worn or corroded specimen worn nearly smooth. Condition, in evaluating coins, is referred to as “grade,” and a set of standard terms has been developed in the coin collecting realm to describe the condition of any particular coin.

Turning to the 1920 wheat penny, from the chart, we can see that the combined production of the Denver and San Francisco Mints makes up less than a quarter of the mintage for 1920. Scarcity affects value, and the result of this built-in scarcity is reflected across all grades. The 1920 D penny value and the 1920 S penny value are both higher than the 1920 penny no mint mark value in each case.

Image credit: NGC

In the case of Lincoln pennies, coins are also described based on their color. A wheat penny can be either red (RD), red-brown (RB), or brown (BN). A “red” penny is shiny, with the look of new copper. At the other end of the scale, a brown penny has oxidized to a dull finish. Between the two states, a red-brown penny exhibits some browning in points, but retains the shine in others.

Thus, in the case of a “Good” G-4 Lincoln wheat penny from 1920, specimens from the Philadelphia mint can be found for as little as $.27, while examples from the Denver and San Francisco mints cost about twice as much, at $.55. These coins are the sort one might find in the blue “penny folders” that many coin collectors began as children, and are the sort that still might, very occasionally, be found in change. They are heavily worn, but all of the images remain on the coin, even though some have lost most of their distinctive features.

At the other end of the spectrum for circulated coins, an About-Uncirculated, AU-55 Lincoln wheat penny from Philadelphia can be purchased for a shade over $11.00. Specimens from Denver can be found for $47.25 and coins from San Francisco can be found for $54.00.

About-uncirculated coins retain almost all of the detail found on the coin. Only the highest points of the image are worn. Thus, on the obverse, or front, of the coin, there might be some wear on the cheek and jaw of the portrait of Lincoln. On the back, or reverse, there might be very slight wear on the wheat stalks.

All of the circulated coins can be found as brown specimens, not red or red-brown coins.

Uncirculated, or Mint-State specimens of 1920 Lincoln wheat pennies are comparatively scarce, and command outstanding prices at auction. In part this is due to low mintage numbers from Denver and San Francisco. There simply weren’t that many specimens to begin with.

Technical aspects of production in 1920 also affect the supply of uncirculated coins to this day. Coins are produced by striking a blank, called a planchet, between two dies. In the case of the Lincoln penny, the front die, the obverse, contains the portrait of Abraham Lincoln, and the back die, the reverse, contains the image of two stalks of wheat. A great deal of force is needed to make a raised image on a piece of bronze.

Over time, the dies will begin to erode from the constant wear of striking coins. As they do so, any coin struck from that die will show the poorer image quality of the degraded die. Details might be fuzzy, and some details might be lost, even when the coin is brand-new. This loss of detail is due to manufacture, not wear.

In 1920, all three mints continued to use dies far beyond their optimal life. This affects the grading of uncirculated coins; coins with poorly detailed images are likely to be graded MS-60 or MS-63. Only the very best, sharpest, images are graded MS-65 or higher. In the case of Lincoln cents from 1920, MS-66 coins are very rare, and very valuable, and MS-67 coins are almost unheard of.

Thus, in February, 2007, a 1920-D RD MS-66 Lincoln penny sold for $31,050 at Heritage Auctions. This particular coin was struck from dies in better condition than many examples from 1920, and this may have accounted for the sale price. Also, the entire coin was a brilliant, red color, with no surface defects. This level of quality, according to the auction catalog, was very rare among the 1920 Lincoln pennies.

In January, 2019, a 1920-D MS-66 RD sold for $20,400 at Heritage Auctions. The virtual catalog entry for the coin cited two experts in the field, both of whom described the difficulty of finding high-grade uncirculated specimens.

Another 1920-D MS-66 RD sold for $16,800 in August, 2022, again at Heritage Auctions. The catalog entry on the site suggests that in this grade, there may be as few as ten specimens known for the 1920-D Lincoln wheat penny. This is fewer than for the 1909-VDB penny, which is many times more expensive.

Coins from the San Francisco Mint can command similar prices at auction. There are comparatively few uncirculated specimens remaining from 1920, and the habit of overusing dies tends to keep the grade of uncirculated “MS” coins lower than it might be otherwise.

In 2005, a 1920-S MS-65 RD sold for $28,750 at Heritage Auctions. This particular coin had some stray nicks and marks, and a patina which may have kept its grade down somewhat, according to the auction description.

Philadelphia mint coins, with no mint mark, are much less valuable, and command somewhat less at auction, although they still don’t appear often at auction. In May 2005, a 1920 MS-66 RD sold for $920 at Heritage Auctions. The sale description noted only a nice patina, and the lack of any serious nicks or other bag marks which are sometimes found on uncirculated mint-state coins.

Were any 1920 Proof Coins Produced?

In 1916, the U.S. Mint ended the production and sale of proof coins, claiming collectors simply were not interested. Pre-1916 proof quantities had not been large, with just over 4,000 proof pennies being struck in 1910. This number fell steadily until, by 1916, the number had fallen to a little over 1,000. Proof coinage would not be resumed until 1936. Thus, there are no genuine 1920 proof Lincoln pennies.

Uncirculated Red-Brown (RB) specimens command much lower prices, and so are more immediately accessible to collectors with modest budgets. The examples still seem to be uncommon, and appearances on the auction block or at sale are rare.

In August 2005, a 1920-D MS-64 RB sold at auction for $195.50. A similar specimen sold in 1999 for $138.00.

Are there any 1920 penny error values?

Many collectors like to collect “error” coins. The U.S. Mint tries to exert rigorous quality control, however, occasionally, mistakes happen, and enter circulation. Some errors are quite subtle, and hard to detect, while others are quite apparent, and easily found by visual inspection. Unlike some years, especially 1922, where a defective die at the Denver Mint led to the creation of a very collectible and systematic error, the year 1920 did not see any remarkable or unique error arising.

The Experimental Planchet

In 1920, the Philadelphia Mint experimented with a different alloy. Most one-cent pieces are 95% copper, and 5% tin and zinc. The experimental planchet used by the mint in 1920 consisted of 82% copper and 16% zinc. Some unknown number of these entered circulation, and occasionally reach the market. In May 2022, Heritage Auctions sold an experimental 1920 MS-64 Lincoln penny for $5,280. The auction listing described the appearance as “unusual” olive color.

Off-Center Strikes

Image credit: Heritage Auctions

Occasionally, a planchet enters the coin press only partially. If the planchet is off-center, the dies will strike only part of the image on to the planchet. The rest of the planchet will be blank. These off-center strikes have between 20% and 60% of the image missing. Off-center coins with the date and mint mark are generally considered more collectible and more valuable. Also, coins with less of the design present are considered more collectible, and more valuable.

In September 2019, a 35% off center 1920 MS-64 RB Lincoln wheat penny sold for $240 at Heritage Auctions. In describing an off-center coin, the orientation of the image is often compared to the face of a clock. In this case, the coin is described as being struck nearly at the 12 o’clock position.

Another off center coin from 1920 shows how the lack of image can affect value. The specimen was actually a circulated piece, graded AU-55, rather than an uncirculated Mint-State piece. Despite this, much of the image was gone, since the coin was 65% off center. But, crucially, the date and mint mark were clearly visible, along with just the front part of Lincoln’s head. The coin realized $516.00 at Heritage Auctions in September 2019, or, over twice as much as the previous example.

Technical Specifications of the 1920 Lincoln Penny

The 1920 Lincoln wheat penny is a bronze coin, not pure copper. Its chemical composition is 95% copper, with 5% tin and zinc, added to make an alloy hard enough to stand up to commercial circulation. The weight of a Lincoln wheat penny is 3.11 grams, and its diameter is 19mm. Like all American one cent pieces, the Lincoln wheat penny has a plain rather than a reeded edge.


Circulated, brown, specimens of the 1920 Lincoln wheat penny can be found at prices that are within reach of any collector, although the grade might be lower than one would wish if one was building a display collection. Uncirculated, mint-state Lincoln wheat pennies from 1920 are somewhat rare, and can sometimes be very valuable, though the odds of finding one in the marketplace are correspondingly low.