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Discover the Value of the 1948 Lincoln Wheat Penny

Discover the Value of the 1948 Lincoln Wheat Penny

The year 1948 was a significant and historic year in the United States. The Presidential election of that year was hotly contested, between the sitting President, Harry Truman of Missouri, and the challenger, Governor Thomas Dewey of New York. The election was the first fought under the glare of the television; one million television sets were already in use in the United States in 1948. The political conventions were both broadcast for the first time. Also, for the first time, a Presidential debate was televised, between Dewey and one of his rivals for the nomination, Harold Stassen of Minnesota. In the end, Truman defeated Dewey, despite the premature headline of the Chicago Tribune to the contrary.

Audiences seeking to escape the political contentions of daily life could go to the theater, where they had a wide range of choices, including seeing Humphrey Bogart and Walter Huston as two prospectors after “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre,” or Laurence Olivier’s film production of “Hamlet.”  Those of a literary bent could read the new novel by Norman Mailer, “The Naked and the Dead.”

Production of the 1948 Lincoln Wheat Penny

One didn’t have to hunt in distant mountains to find a one cent coin in the United States, however. Production of the 1948 Lincoln wheat penny was substantial, with over half a billion coins being created. The Philadelphia Mint, which used no mint mark, made up about sixty percent of the production, followed by Denver, using the mint mark D, and San Francisco, using the mint mark S.

MintCoins Struck

Values for the 1948 Lincoln Wheat Penny

1948 Penny Value Chart
Good G4Uncirculated MS63Uncirculated MS65Uncirculated MS67
1948 1C BN$0.18$0.40$2.15$47.25
1948 1C RB$0.55$4.05$61.00
1948 1C RD$0.80$10.80$1,880.00
1948-D 1C BN$0.22$0.80$3.38$47.25
1948-D 1C RB$0.90$4.05$61.00
1948-D 1C RD$1.35$10.80$585.00
1948-S 1C BN$0.22$0.80$3.38$49.95
1948-S 1C RB$0.90$4.05$63.00
1948-S 1C RD$1.35$10.80$143.00
Source: CDN CPG® (Retail)

The value of any collectible item depends in large measure upon supply and demand. Supply is determined by the production numbers, which set an upper bound. Quality also plays a significant role, and fine nuances can lead to big swings in value.

Demand is determined by a variety of factors. Collectors may idiosyncratically prefer one year over another. Certain years, like the first or last years of issue, or years with unusual scarcity or unique circumstances, may also attract attention. Years in which the design changes in part, or the composition of the penny, may also encourage demand.

Quality is another factor that determines value. A “nicer” specimen, looking less worn and showing more detail, will have and maintain a higher value than a “less nice” specimen. In discussing quality, collectors and dealers have devised a series of grades, which contain both a numerical rating, and a word describing the coin.

Image credit: PCGS

The Lincoln wheat penny, being a bronze coin, has an additional grade or quality descriptor. Bronze and copper coins can be described as being either “red” (RD), “red-brown” (RB) or “brown” (BN). A “red” coin retains almost all of its original shiny copper color and looks newly minted. At the other end of the spectrum, a brown coin has been exposed to air and has tarnished to a dull color. Red-brown describes a coin which has begun the process of tarnishing, but still retains some red gleam about it. As a general rule, there are no circulated red or red-brown coins, the term being reserved for uncirculated “mint-state” coins. On the other hand, since coins can oxidize, whether they are handled or not, one can and does find brown mint-state coins.

Because all three mints struck a large number of Lincoln wheat pennies in 1948, they are very common in all the circulated grades. The presence of so many coins in the production run means that there are many specimens available for collectors at the lower quality grades, and prices are accordingly low. For all three mints, circulated examples can be purchased for under half a dollar in the grades “Good” through to “Almost-Uncirculated..”

At the lowest numerical grades, uncirculated “Mint-State” coins also are available for prices at or near one dollar. Only when one finds coins rated “Mint-State-66 or higher do prices begin to rise significantly. Because of the age of the 1948 Lincoln penny, uncirculated specimens can be found in all three tones, of red, red-brown, and brown.

As an example of the value attached to quality, consider the following two specimens offered by Heritage Auctions. Both coins are 1948 Lincoln pennies, struck by the Philadelphia Mint. One would not be embarrassed to have either coin in a penny collection. The first, rated as an MS-66 RD sold in July 2023, for $61.00. The second, rated as an MS-67+ RD, sold in November 2023, for $6,000.00. Another 1948 Lincoln wheat penny, graded MS-67 RD, showing a few abrasions and dark flecks, sold in December 2022 for $2,640.00.

Similar disparities in price because of fine distinctions in grade can be seen in the values of Lincoln wheat pennies from the other mints. A seemingly tiny distinction in grade can spell a big difference in values received at auction.

Thus, a 1948-S Lincoln wheat penny, graded MS-67 RD, realized $89.00 at a sale by Heritage Auctions in July 2023. A similarly graded coin sold for $192.00 in the following month. In contrast, simply moving from MS-67 to MS-67+ produced a significant jump in price at auction. In December 2022, a 1948-S MS-67+ RD sold at Heritage Auctions for $1,020.00. A similar coin sold in November 2023 for $456.00, and a third example, in June 2023, went for $288.00. The difference in grade between MS-67 and MS-67+ may, at times, depend upon differences which, if not microscopic, still need a magnifying glass to be seen.

Prices for coins from the Denver Mint follow a similar trend. Only those graded at MS-65 or higher command truly extraordinary prices at auction. In February 2023, a 1948-D Lincoln penny described as being MS-65 BN sold for $601.00 at Heritage Auctions. A 1948-D wheat penny graded as MS-67 RD, sold for $1,020.00 in December of 2022. The catalog described this grade as hard to find for coins from Denver, and suggested no better specimens were known. Another 1948-D penny, graded MS-67 RD, sold in November 2023 for $480.00.

Were any 1948 Proof Lincoln Wheat Pennies Produced?

Proof coins are specially issued by the U.S. Mint. They are manufactured to a higher standard than ordinary coins intended for circulation, and are made for special presentation and for sale to collectors. The production of proof coins was sporadic during the first half of the twentieth century. The Mint discontinued the sale of proof coins in 1916, claiming a lack of interest on the part of the public. Proof coin production was resumed in 1936, only to be halted again in the middle of 1942 as a war measure. The Mint focused instead upon the manufacture of military medals. Proof coin production would not be resumed until 1950. There are no genuine proof Lincoln pennies from the year 1948.

While proof sets were unavailable, the Mint did make uncirculated sets available in cardboard holders. Each set contained two coins of each denomination, so that the obverse and reverse could be displayed, since plastic packaging hadn’t really become available yet. The unprotected nature of the cardboard holder seems ill-suited to prevent oxidation or handling, and so sets can sometimes be quite valuable. In February 2018, Heritage Auctions offered a lot of three uncirculated 1948 mint sets, one each from Philadelphia, Denver and San Francisco. The San Francisco set was missing the half-dollars. Nevertheless, the lot fetched $504.00 at auction.

Error Values for the 1948 Lincoln Wheat Penny

 In many years during the first half of the twentieth century, the U.S. Mint inadvertently created defective coins through hasty or negligent manufacture of the dies used to strike those coins. The Mint’s manufacturing process required the die to be struck several times by a punch containing the coin image during its creation. The date and mint mark were then added in a separate step, using a separate punch. If the strikes were not perfectly aligned, double images would appear either on the coin or on the date or mint mark. 

Unlike off-center coins, which are unique, every coin made from a defective die, called a double die error, or with a defective mint mark, called a repunched mint mark, has the same defect.

Collectors eagerly pursue examples of coins containing these errors, and many instances exist for Lincoln wheat cents in the 1940’s and 1950’s. In 1948, however, the Mint made no errors in the manufacture of its dies or the addition of mint marks, and there are no genuine coins from that year made from defective dies.

Off-center Strikes of 1948 Lincoln Wheat Pennies

Off-center strikes are coins which fail to enter the coin press properly during the minting process. Ordinarily, the coin blank, called a planchet, should be lined up properly with the two dies which contain the image of the coin to be minted. When the planchet is not correctly aligned, the die striking it creates an oval-shaped coin, having only part of the image.

Some collectors seek off-center coins. The U.S. Mint exercises rigorous quality control, and tries to remove as many errors as possible, so values for off-center coins tend to be higher. Values are highest for specimens which show a complete date and mint mark.

Image credit: Heritage Auctions

In January 2022, Heritage Auctions sold a 1948-D Lincoln wheat penny graded at AU-55 which was 85% off-center. As a practical matter, being this far out of alignment meant that the resulting coin had only a tiny bit of the bust, together with the date and mint mark. The off-center coin realized $336.00. An ordinary brown 1948-D wheat penny of the same grade, AU-55 sells for just 35 cents.

Another 1948-D off-center coin containing somewhat more of the image, struck only 20% off center, sold for considerably less. The specimen, which was graded at MS-63 RB, sold for $109.00 on September 10, 2019, again at Heritage Auctions.

Other Errors and Oddities

In 2021, Heritage Auctions sold a 1948 Lincoln penny, graded at MS-64 BN, which was a “straight clip.” A straight clip error arises during the manufacturing of the planchets themselves, not during the striking process. The planchets are struck out of a long strip of metal. If the machine striking the planchets cuts too close to one of the edges of the strip, the planchet created will have a straight edge. This is called a “straight clip” error. The coin sold for $45.00. A similar coin with no error would sell for between forty cents and $2.15.

Lincoln pennies, being commonly available and cheap, are often included in promotional materials like key chains or “lucky penny tokens.” These mostly have sentimental value, unless some unusual factor like provenance or ownership adds value. An example of this can be seen in a 1948-D “Lucky Penny” key chain from the Welfare Finance Company branch in Wapakoneta, Ohio. The coin itself is completely unremarkable, and held in an aluminum holder with the inscription, “Keep Me and Never Go Broke. I Bring Good Luck.” The object gains its value from having been owned, and kept, by Neil Armstrong, the first man to land on the moon, and its ownership was attested to by his sons. Heritage Auctions was thus able to sell the souvenir for $525 at auction in May, 2019.

Technical Specifications of the 1948 Lincoln Penny

By 1948, the design of the Lincoln wheat penny celebrated its 39th year. The coin was introduced in 1909, for the centennial of the birth of the 16th President of the United States. Abraham Lincoln. The designer of the coin, Victor D. Brenner, was a sculptor and medallion engraver, who created a bust of Theodore Roosevelt, then President. Roosevelt was very interested in artistic matters, and wished to upgrade the appearance of American coinage. Brenner accordingly furnished a portrait of Lincoln for the obverse, and a stylized pair of wheat stalks for the reverse, enclosing the value of “one cent.” The design was immediately popular and has become the longest running U.S. coin design.

The 1948 Lincoln wheat penny is not pure copper, but a bronze coin, made from 95% copper and 5% tin and zinc. It is 19 millimeters in diameter and weighs 3.11 grams.


The 1948 Lincoln penny is inexpensive and readily available for collectors at the uncirculated grades, and even in the lower mint-state uncirculated grades. Only at the very highest levels of Mint-State grades, MS-66 and MS-67, does one really see many examples of valuable coins. Given the fact that grading is as much an art as a science, and can be a highly subjective one at that, collectors considering a purchase will want to look carefully when purchasing or selling Lincoln pennies in these grades, as simple details can spell the difference between a high price and a low one.