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Discovering the Value of the 1938 Lincoln Wheat Penny

Discovering the Value of the 1938 Lincoln Wheat Penny

The 1938 Lincoln wheat penny attracts considerable attention from experienced coin collectors. The basic coin itself is somewhat rare, but prices remain low. The excitement comse, not from the standard issue penny, but from three unusual die varieties which have generated almsot all the buzz and a lot of the value and price movement.

Production of the 1938 Lincoln Wheat Penny

The three branches of the U.S. Mint produced, between them, a little under 200,000,000 Lincoln wheat pennies in 1938. As usual in this period, the main mint, at Philadelphia, produced far and away the most pennies, while the Denver and San Francisco mints, between them, contributed about a fifth of the total. In addition to the coins made for circulation, the Philadelphia Mint struck just under 15,000 proof Lincoln pennies.

By modern standards, such a mintage number is very low. However, even by the standards of the period, 1938 saw fewer pennies produced than usual, especially from the two branch mints. Although the worst of the Great Depression was over, commerce was still uncertain, and U.S. Mint production, designed to supply the need of American business for coins to use in trade, was rebounding steadily, but slowly.

DatePhiladelphiaDenverSan Francisco
1938 Proof14,73400
Source: Red Book

Values for 1938 Wheat Pennies

David Bowers, in his Guide Book of Lincoln Cents, suggests that despite low original mintage numbers, the supply of surviving coins from all three mints is sufficient to meet the demand of collectors. Coins struck with crisp, sharp details are also readily available for collectors seeking quality. While circulated coins may be readily available, Bowers notes that because of deterioration and mishandling, very high grade gem uncirculated coins may be harder to come by. Collectors may need to exercise caution and patience when shopping.

1938 Penny Value Chart
Good G4Extra Fine XF40About Uncirculated AU55Uncirculated MS63Uncirculated MS65Uncirculated MS67
1938 1C BN$0.20$0.22$0.23$2.40$4.05
1938 1C RB$2.65$8.10
1938 1C RD$4.05$13.50$150.00
1938-D 1C BN$0.30$0.55$0.85$2.65$5.40
1938-D 1C RB$3.38$8.10
1938-D 1C RD$4.05$16.20$169.00
1938-S 1C BN$0.30$0.55$0.85$3.38$5.40
1938-S 1C RB$4.05$6.75
1938-S 1C RD$4.05$10.80$176.00
Source: CDN CPG® (Retail)

Values for 1938 Pennies

Image credit: PCGS

The 1938 wheat penny struck in Philadelphia, carrying no mint mark, is the most common variety. As such, it has the lowest price in circulated grades. Collectors can find 1938 wheat pennies graded “Good” for $0.20. Much nicer “About-Uncirculated” coins will cost only slightly more, at $0.23.

Low grade uncirculated wheat pennies can also be found for reasonable prices. Mint-state coins, graded MS-63, should cost between $2.40 and $4.05. Coins graded at MS-65 should sell for between $4 and $13.

Higher level mint-state coins are more expensive, but not vastly so, except for the choicest examples. A 1938 penny graded MS-67 RD sold for $81 in October 2023. Earlier, in April, a different coin graded MS-67 RD sold for $117.

Truly impressive uncirculated 1938 wheat pennies are somewhat rare in higher grades. Collectors respond eagerly when such specimens appear at auction or in the market, and prices are accordingly high. In November 2023, a 1938 penny graded MS-67+ sold for $840 at Heritage Auctions. Another specimen sold in May 2023 for $780. A third penny, also graded MS 67+ sold for $1,200 at auction in April 2023.

Values for 1938-D Pennies

Image credit: PCGS

Circulated 1938-D wheat pennies are common enough to be easily affordable for even beginning collectors. Prices range from $0.30 for a 1938-S penny graded as “Good-4” to $0.85 for a penny graded as “About-Uncirculated-55. These prices are higher than those for 1938 pennies struck in Philadelphia, but even at such prices, collectors can find very nice specimens for a basic set of Lincoln pennies as needed for very little money.

Uncirculated 1938-D wheat pennies can be found in the lower grades at decent prices. A mint state coin, graded MS-63, will cost between $2.60 and 4.05. Uncirculated coins graded MS-65 are more expensive. A 1938-D penny graded MS-65 BN should sell for about $5.40. Nicer coins, graded MS-65 RB, will cost slightly over $8, while a penny graded MS-65 RD will cost just over $16.

At the very highest level, of MS-67 RD, collectors should be able to find 1938-D wheat pennies for between $150 and $200, based upon recent auction sales in November 2023. A truly spectacular piece can reach even higher prices. In November 2023, a 1938-D wheat penny, graded MS-67+, sold for $750 at Heritage.

Values for 1938-S Pennies

Image credit: PCGS

Circulated 1938-S Lincoln pennies sell for approximately the same price as 1938-D pennies. Prices range from $0.30 to $0.85. As with pennies from the Denver Mint in 1938, collectors will have no problem finding some nice choices in the circulated grades of coins.

Uncirculated 1938-S Lincoln pennies are available in the lower grades at quite reasonable prices. An uncirculated 1938-S penny, graded MS-63, can be found at prices ranging between $3 and $4, depending upon the tone. At the grade of MS-65, the price may run from $5 to a bit over $10. This price is lower than for the 1938-D equivalent.

High quality “gem” uncirculated 1938-S pennies are more expensive, though prices seem to be lower than for 1938-D mint-state coins in the same grade. In October and November 2023, uncirculated 1938-S pennies graded MS-67 RD sold for prices ranging from $87 to $144. A spectacular MS-67+ RD 1938-S penny sold for as much as $810 in November 2023.

Values for 1938 Proof Lincoln Wheat Pennies

Image credit: PCGS
1938 Proof Penny Value Chart
1938 1C RB$61.00$122.00$1,090.00
1938 1C RD$108.00$208.00$1,220.00
1938 1C CAM$364.00$780.00$11,200.00
Source: CDN CPG® (Retail)

The Philadelphia Mint struck just under 15,000 proof wheat pennies. Surviving examples are readily available in grades of PR-66 and below, and scarce in grades of PR-67 or slightly higher. The difference in availability is probably due to the manner in which proof coins were packaged in the 1930’s. The Mint relied upon small cellophane envelopes to hold individual proof coins, rather than the presentation cases or plastic slabs seen today. Handling by the ultimate customer would have been highly idiosyncratic, so fewer specimens have survived perfectly intact.

As an example of the price of 1938 proof coins at the lower end, in November 2023, a Lincoln penny, graded PR-63, sold for $57. At the same auction, a nicer specimen, graded PR-66, fetched $240. At the top of the scale, in September 2023, a proof wheat penny, graded PR-67+ sold for $2,760 at Heritage Auctions.

Originally, proof coins were sold individually in 1938. Collectors sometimes assemble sets of individual proofs, and these sometimes appear on the market. In October 2023, a five-coin 1938 proof set, with most of the coins being graded at PR-66, sold for $1,800 at Heritage Auctions.

Error Values for the 1938 Lincoln Wheat Penny

Values of Three Different Repunched Mint Marks for the 1938 Wheat Penny

Interest in the 1938 wheat penny depends, not upon the ordinary circulated or uncirculated coins of the year, but upon three defective varieties that the U.S. Mint released into circulation. These coins, the “repunched mint mark” wheat pennies, are well-known as collectible coins, and highly sought by specialists.

The repunched mint mark varieties exist because of the manner in which the U.S. Mint prepared coin dies for striking at the time. A coin die is essentially a “negative” made of metal, which is used in a press to stamp coin blanks. Until recently, the U.S. Mint prepared the base die, and then added the date and mint mark using separate punches.

An engraver, using the date or mint mark punch, would strike several blows on the die, until the image was clearly defined. Ideally, those blows would land in exactly the same spot with each strike, but, if this was not the case, faint extra images would appear.

In 1938, the Denver Mint had one repunched mint mark die for the penny, and one for the Buffalo nickel.  The San Francisco Mint had two repunched mint marks, one with two distinct images, and one with three.

Unlike other kinds of errors, which arise during the minting process itself, and affect only individual coins, a repunched mint mark occurs at the stage in which the Mint is preparing to make coins, and all coins struck with the defective die will carry the defective mint mark.

Value of the 1938 D/D Repunched Mint Mark Wheat Penny

Image credit: Cherrypickers’ Guide

The Cherrypickers’ Guide to Rare Die Varieties of United States Coins catalogs this variation as FS-01-1938D-501. The secondary mint mark appears left or “west” of the main mint mark, and slightly lower. This RPM has high demand among collectors, according to the Guide, but good examples can still be found on the market or at auction with patience.

In August 2022, a 1938-D/D Repunched Mint Mark wheat penny graded MS-65 sold for $159 at auction. A bit over a year later, in November 2023, another 1938-D/D penny sold for $169. Auction sales reports don’t seem to be plentiful, so even though prices aren’t especially high, collectors may have to wait for “just the coin,” or may have to settle for a coin somewhat lower in grade than they might usually seek, in order to find this variety.

Value of the 1938 S/S Repunched Mint Mark Wheat Penny

Image credit: Cherrypickers’ Guide

The Cherrypickers’ Guide lists this variation as FS-01-1938S-501. According to the Guide, the second mint mark is above, or “north” of the main mintmark. This variety is popular with collectors, and more scarce than the 1938-S/S/S mint mark variety.

Uncirculated grades of this penny command steep prices. In April 2023, an MS-66 1938-S/S penny sold for $124. In November of that year, a slightly nicer MS-66+ example sold for $169. In May and November 2023, two different MS-67 1938-S/S pennies sold for $408. A very top of the line 1938-S/S wheat penny, graded MS-67+ sold for $720 in November 2023.

Value of the 1938 S/S/S Repunched Mint Mark Wheat Penny

Image credit: Cherrypickers’ Guide

The Cherrypickers’ Guide lists this variation as FS-01-1938S-502. According to the Guide, all three mint marks can be seen easily, especially on uncirculated “mint-state” coins. Both the second and third mint marks are north-west of the main image. This is an extremely popular variety with collectors, but there seems to be a good supply of coins to meet demand as well.

Circulated varieties of this coin sometimes appear at auction or can be found at coin shops. In July 2021, a circulated 1938-S/S/S wheat penny graded AU-58 sold for $43. Had the coin been a normal 1938-S penny of the same grade, it would have cost about a dollar.

Uncirculated 1938-S/S/S pennies command better prices. In January 2022, and again in April 2023, 1938-S/S/S wheat pennies graded MS-66 appeared at Heritage Auction. In both cases, the coins sold for $159.

Off-Center Strikes and Broadstrikes of 1938 Lincoln Wheat Pennies

With the emphasis on the repunched mint mark varieties, it isn’t surprising that ordinary errors, like off-center strikes, can be overlooked in the furor. (The effect of an off-center or broadstruck 1938-S/S/S appearing at auction can only be imagined.) Nevertheless, ordinary errors did occur in the coining of 1938 and did escape into circulation.

In January 2022, a 1938 wheat penny, struck 20% off-center, sold for $117 at Heritage Auctions.

In July 2021, a 1938 penny, graded MS-63 RB and struck 75% off-center, sold for $348 at auction. An ordinary coin of that grade would typically sell for $3.38.

In 2019, another 1938 penny, described as being struck “far off center,” and graded MS-64 BN, sold for $216.

Technical Specifications of the 1938 Lincoln Penny

In 1938, the Lincoln wheat penny weighed 3.11 grams, and had a diameter of 19 mm. The penny of that year was a bronze coin, made of 95% copper and 5% zinc and tin.

The original design of the coin was introduced in 1909 to celebrate the centennial of the birth of Abraham Lincoln, the Sixteenth President of the United States, and was part of a larger upgrade of American coin design, advocated by Theodore Roosevelt, then President. The Mint commissioned an outside artist, Victor D. Brenner, to execute the design. Brenner, an engraver and sculptor, attracted attention when he created a portrait bust of President Roosevelt.

Brenner prepared a profile bust of Lincoln for the obverse of the coin, and a simple design of the denomination, surrounded by a wreath of wheat stalks, for the reverse. The design proved immensely popular and was continued for fifty years before being modified. Still in use today, the Lincoln penny is the longest running coin design in U.S. history, and one of the longest running designs in the world.


Collectors simply seeking to fill out a penny book with ordinary grades of circulated 1938 pennies will have no problem finding as many nice coins as they wish to choose from. Even the lower grades of uncirculated, Mint-State 1938 pennies should be readily available for collectors. At the very highest uncirculated grades, finding choice specimens might be a challenge.

The real test for collectors comes in finding the three repunched mint mark varieties. Collectors eagerly bid up prices for really nice coins, and so a wary approach and patience would seem to be the hallmark of collecting those varieties.