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The 1949 Lincoln Wheat Penny: An Affordable Coin for Beginning Collectors

The 1949 Lincoln Wheat Penny: An Affordable Coin for Beginning Collectors

By 1949, the design of the Lincoln cent had been in use for forty years, and had gained widespread acceptance by the public. The coin by then had enough variations and errors to attract interest from collectors. The exigencies of the Second World War had, by then, all passed, and production at all three U.S. Mints had returned to normal, pre-war, levels. Hundreds of millions of new Lincoln wheat pennies entered circulation in 1949, and the 1949 penny value, accordingly, is low. Circulated pieces are available at prices any collector can afford. Very nice uncirculated specimens can fetch high prices at auctions. Errors and mis-strikes exist, for collectors interested, and can also fetch outstanding sums at auction.

The 1949 Lincoln one cent coin is not especially rare, and not especially valuable monetarily. Instead, its value is mainly historical and aesthetic.  It is an artifact from a vital moment in American history, and, like the other wheat pennies, finds favor with collectors for its appearance, its accessible prices and its interesting variety.

Lincoln Wheat Penny Circulation

The United States enjoyed generally robust economic growth after World War II, and all three mints produced coins to meet commercial demand. All three mints struck Lincoln wheat pennies in 1949.  As was customary in that period, the Philadelphia mint used no mint mark, and this is denoted in charts simply by listing the year. The numbers of coins minted at each mint can be seen in the chart below:

MintCoins Struck

The design of the 1949 Lincoln wheat penny remained the same as in previous years. The original pattern, created by the sculptor Victor D. Brenner in 1909, consisted of a profile bust of the 16th President, Abraham Lincoln, on the obverse, together with date, and the mottoes “Liberty,” and “In God We Trust.” On the reverse, Brenner placed a pair of stylized wheat stalks, together with the denomination, “One Cent,” and the phrase “E Pluribus Unum” as well as “The United States of America.” This basic design would remain unchanged from 1909 to 1958, when the reverse was replaced by an image of the Lincoln Memorial.

1949 Penny Value Chart

1949 Penny Value Chart
Uncirculated MS63Uncirculated MS65Uncirculated MS67
1949 1C BN$0.40$2.15$47.25
1949 1C RB$0.55$4.05$61.00
1949 1C RD$0.80$10.80$1,250.00
1949-D 1C BN$0.80$3.38$47.25
1949-D 1C RB$0.90$4.05$61.00
1949-D 1C RD$1.35$10.80$436.00
1949-S 1C BN$0.80$3.38$49.95
1949-S 1C RB$0.90$4.05$63.00
1949-S 1C RD$1.35$10.80$221.00

Coin values are driven, in large measure, by the condition of the coin, known as the “grade.” Although grading standards are somewhat subjective, the terms used have both distinct meanings, and a numerical scale attempts to bring some consistency to the grading standards.

Image credit: PCGS

In the numerical grading system, which runs from 1 to 70, a higher number is better, and indicates a more valuable coin than a lower numbered one using the same description. Thus, a coin graded “Good-6” is expected to fetch more than a coin graded “Good-4.”

The verbal descriptions used range from Poor/About Good, all the way up to Mint State (sometimes called “Uncirculated” in older sources.) All the coin grading descriptions except “Mint State” are used to evaluate coins which have been used in commerce.

Mint State grades, which range from 60 to 70, are used to describe coins which have been held out of circulation, and which show minimal amounts of abrasion from having been shipped in bags from the mint to, probably, a bank where they were purchased by a collector.

Lincoln wheat pennies are also evaluated for their tone or color. The bronze in a one cent piece leaves the Mint and enters circulation with a nice, shiny copper color.  As it circulates, and passes through many hands, the coin tends to oxidize towards a dull brown color. Pennies are thus described as being “Red” (abbreviated RD), or essentially in their new copper state; “Red/Brown” (abbreviated RB), meaning they have some degree of tarnish beginning to build up, or “Brown,” meaning they have taken on a dull brown patina.

A coin dealer, putting a value on a Lincoln wheat penny, will assign a grade based upon the amount of wear, and upon the tone. Coins at the bottom of the scale, Pr/AG, G, or F, have very little detail showing on the original surface. Bigger images, like the portrait of Lincoln, will show clearly what the coin is, but much of the script will be worn down or hard to read. Smaller items, like the individual grains of wheat on the back, may be difficult to observe. At the opposite end of the spectrum, coins with grades of About Uncirculated, will show tiny amounts of wear on the highest portions of the profile. Thus, part of the cheek on the portrait bust of Lincoln’s head may be worn, but the coin will otherwise seem virtually new. The grade, coupled with the description of the tone, whether brown, red/brown, or red, will explain the value assigned by the dealer.

In the case of the 1949 Lincoln penny, except for exceptional pieces at the very highest grades, prices remain extremely low. Even at the lowest grades of uncirculated, examples from all three mints can be found for under one dollar. At the higher grade of Mint State, the finest wheat pennies can command substantial sums:

Errors and Mis-Strikes of the 1949 Lincoln Wheat Penny Can Be Valuable

Many collectors like to assemble groups of defectively struck coins. Because of the quality control process in place at the U.S. Mint, comparatively few mistakes escape scrutiny long enough to reach circulation. Consequently, errors can be very valuable compared to other circulating coins. For the1949 Lincoln wheat penny, a couple of different errors are known and available for collectors.

Doubled dies:

Image credit: Heritage Auctions

A doubled die defect arises when the die, or stamp, used to make coins isn’t properly created. In order to manufacture a coin die, the mint must repeatedly strike the die in order to obtain the desired impression. During those strikes, the die must be perfectly aligned, and each successive strike must fall very precisely.  If the manufacturing process fails, and the die is not kept perfectly aligned, at least two, and perhaps more, images will appear on any coin subsequently created using that die. The defect could be as simple as having a slightly blurry edge, or as dramatic as having two clear and distinct images on the coin. The more distinct the images, the more valuable the coin.

In the case of the 1949 wheat penny, a doubled die error is known to exist for the San Francisco Mint. Recent auction sales of examples of this coin include:

Off center:

Another common form of error is striking the coin off center. In an off center mis-strike, the coin blank, known as a planchet, is not positioned properly when the dies strike it. As a result, the coin is distorted, and missing part of the image. Unlike a doubled die error, in which each coin struck by the defective die is identical, each off center coin is unique. Off center coins are described by noting how much of the design is present, and where, in the planchet, the image ended up.

Collectors of off center coins look to see which parts of the image are present, and a coin with a visible date and the other mottos or script may tend towards a higher price than one missing those parts of the design.

Repunched Mint Mark:

Before 1990. the U.S. Mint punched mint marks into each working die instead of the original master die from which working dies were made. Occasionally, the mint mark punch would strike twice, or incorrectly, leaving two distinct mint marks on the die. Any coins struck from this die would then carry the defective mint mark. The impression left by the repunched mint mark die can range from a faint outline or shadow around the mint mark, to a full second mint mark in a separate location.

In 1949, the Denver Mint accidentally repunched their mint mark, not once, but several times onto a number of different dies, and thus, there are several different patterns available for the 1949-D wheat penny.

Repunched mint mark coins are a collector’s specialization all in themselves, and can fetch good prices at auction or sale.

As with any other coins, the grade and condition of errors and mis-strikes can greatly affect the value.

Proof Coins of the 1949 Lincoln Wheat Penny Weren’t Minted

Proof coins are popular with collectors. These coins are specially made by the Mint, using highly polished dies that produce a brilliant, almost mirror-like surface on the coin. They are then very carefully inspected for quality. Originally, proof coins were made as presentation samples for officials, or to have visual examples of what finished coin designs might look like. Over time, they became popular with collectors, and the Mint began making coins for sale to the general public.

In 1943, the Mint ceased producing proof coins, due to the war. Thus, the year 1942 was the last year of proof coin manufacture, and there are no proof 1949 Lincoln Wheat Pennies. Proof coin production would not be resumed until 1950.

Technical Specifications of the 1949 Lincoln Wheat Penny

The Mint had been forced during the war to experiment with a variety of compositions for small denomination coins like the one and five cent pieces. The war effort placed great demands on both copper supplies used in the penny, and nickel supplies used in the five cent piece. For the Lincoln penny, the Mint experimented first with steel coated with zinc as a substitute for bronze. When this proved unpopular, the Mint relied upon spent cartridge cases between 1944 and 1946. By 1949, however, the Mint had resumed the customary bronze alloy of 95% copper and 5% zinc and tin for the Lincoln wheat penny. As in previous years, the coin had a weight of 3.11 grams and a diameter of 19 mm. The Lincoln penny always had a plain edge, and not a reeded edge.


Large numbers of the 1949 Lincoln wheat penny are available in every grade for collectors. In addition, there are a number of errors known to exist, which also exist in a variety of grades. The 1949 penny value, accordingly, is not very high, except for the very best specimens. Collectors wishing to purchase a specimen for their collection won’t need to spend very much to have their choice from many nice examples on the market.