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The 1951 Lincoln Wheat Penny, A Common Coin With Some Uncommon Variations

The 1951 Lincoln Wheat Penny, A Common Coin With Some Uncommon Variations

The year 1951 saw a number of interesting events. The Korean War was underway. On the domestic scene, audiences could go see “An American in Paris,” with Gene Kelly, or “The King and I,” starring Yul Brenner and Gertrude Lawrence on Broadway. An individual penny could no longer buy much, if anything, but if put together with several other coins, one could still buy a substantial amount of food for a dollar or less. The Lincoln wheat penny continued its long mint run, and the three American mints produced in excess of a billion pennies that year. The value of a 1951 Lincoln wheat penny to collectors is accordingly low.

How many Lincoln wheat pennies were minted in 1951?

Lincoln wheat cent production in 1951 exceeded one billion coins. This number had been reached during the war, and occasionally thereafter, but would soon become the norm, rather than the exception. The implication for collectors’ prices and values is fairly clear in the price charts. Pre-war pennies tend to fetch much higher prices in every grade than post-war pennies, often the difference in price is significant.


In addition, the Philadelphia Mint struck 57,500 proof Lincoln wheat cents. The year 1951 was the second in which proof coin production was resumed at the Philadelphia mint. Production had been suspended during the war

The Denver mint out-produced the Philadelphia mint for the second year in a row. This had happened occasionally in previous years, but henceforth the Denver mint would be the main source for penny minting in the United States.

The design of the 1951 coin remained the same as it had been for the previous forty-two years. The Lincoln penny, introduced in 1909, featured a portrait bust of the sixteenth President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, on the obverse. The front of the coin also featured the mottoes “Liberty” and “In God We Trust,” as well as the date and mint mark. The reverse featured a pair of stylized wheat ears, as a wreath, surrounding the words “One Cent.” The back of the coin also featured the motto “E Pluribus Unum” and “The United States of America.”

The Lincoln penny had been created as part of the larger re-design of American coinage created by Theodore Roosevelt. By 1951, it was the only design of the group still actually being minted; all the other denominations of coins had been redesigned and replaced by the 1950’s.

How much is a 1951 Lincoln wheat penny worth?

1951 Penny Value Chart
Business StrikeGrade
Uncirculated MS63Uncirculated MS65Uncirculated MS67
1951 1C BN$1.50$4.05$47.25
1951 1C RB$2.65$6.75
1951 1C RD$8.10$22.95$592.00
1951-D 1C BN$0.40$2.15$47.25
1951-D 1C RB$0.55$5.40$61.00
1951-D 1C RD$0.80$10.80$195.00
1951-S 1C BN$0.80$3.38$49.95
1951-S 1C RB$0.90$4.05$63.00
1951-S 1C RD$1.35$10.80$338.00
Proof StrikeGrade
1951 1C RD$101.00$195.00$1,090.00
1951 1C CAM$350.00$1,090.00$6,250.00
1951 1C DCAM$3,400.00$13,800.00

The valuation of Lincoln pennies depends upon the grade and upon the scarcity, as with any coin. In the case of the Lincoln wheat penny, which is a bronze coin, collectors also discuss the amount of oxidation, and describe a coin as being either “brown,” “red/brown,” or “red.” A brown coin is one that has largely lost its shiny luster. Such a penny can theoretically be found at any grade, as the coin could theoretically tarnish simply with exposure to air. Red coins, at the other end of the spectrum, have little or no oxidation, and retain a shiny “copper” look. Red/brown coins are intermediate between the two, and have perhaps as little as 5% or as much as 95% of their shiny copper look remaining. As a practical matter, red, and red/brown pennies are found only in the uncirculated “mint-state” grades.

Image credit: PCGS

Brown pennies, being the most common, are the least valuable in any market or grade. Red/brown coins, being less common, fetch better prices, while red coins, being the least common of all, fetch the best prices. Who, after all, doesn’t like a “nice, shiny copper penny.”

Unscrupulous dealers and ignorant collectors will try to profit from this by cleaning a penny, sometimes with a brass cleaner. These are easily detected by close examination. There are no worn, or circulated, red toned pennies, for a start. Also, the chemicals in brass polish often give a slightly different color to a bronze or copper coin, making it look slightly more white than the original red. Cleaning a coin destroys its value, and reputable dealers will refuse to have anything to do with such coins.

Because of the enormous mint run, 1951 Lincoln wheat pennies are quite common, and the 1951 penny value is accordingly quite low. Pennies for the circulated grades in all the post-war years are readily available and quite modestly priced, and the 1951 one cent pieces are no exception.

In the circulated grades, the 1951 penny no mint mark value and the 1951 s penny value tends to be approximately the same. In both cases, nice about uncirculated examples can be found for under $.35. Since the Denver Mint, rather than the Philadelphia Mint, produced the most pennies in 1951, 1951 d penny value tends to be lower. About uncirculated specimens can be found for just over $.20

The situation is similar for uncirculated, mint state coins. Brown and red/brown coins can be found at MS-63 and MS-65 from all three mints for under $10.00

In short, collectors who are beginning, and who wish to assemble type sets or exemplars of Lincoln wheat pennies will find many good choices available at quite modest prices.

The situation changes only slightly at the very highest uncirculated level, MS-67+. Brown or red/brown exemplars become much more valuable, but still can be found for prices just above or just below $50. The very best pieces, red MS-67 coins, can go for between $300 and $600, depending upon the mint. The exception for 1951 pennies is the very highest graded red MS-67 1951 (no mint mark, so Philadelphia). Coins from Philadelphia in this year and grade are quite rare, and appear very seldom, and so command a very high price when they do come onto the market. In 2004, for example, Heritage Auctions sold a coin of this type and grade for $4,600.00. In contrast, in 2007, a 1951-S red MS-67, which is to say, a coin of the same grade and coloration, but from a different mint, realized only $690.00.

Collectors looking to acquire coins at more modest prices can easily find what they wish in lower grades. In 2016, Heritage Auctions sold a set of MS-66 red 1951 pennies from all three mints, for $65.00. As always, quality rules in coin values.

Were any proof Lincoln wheat pennies struck?

Image credit: PCGS

In 1950, the U.S. Mint resumed production of proof coins. The striking of proofs had been suspended during the war, and the Mint focused on manufacturing medals and awards using the same process as part of the war effort. In 1951, the second year of proof coin manufacture, the Philadelphia Mint struck 57,500 proof pennies. According to the Red Book, a proof set in 1951 sold for $2.10. An intact set today, according to the same source, could go for as much as $600.

Are there collectible errors or mis-strikes for the 1951 Lincoln wheat penny?

A number of different mistakes crept through the U.S. Mint production process, and so examples of 1951 penny error are available, if not common, and one can build an interesting collection. The Mint always seeks to maintain high quality control standards, however, with so many coins being minted in 1951, even a tiny percentage of errors could lead to a large number of circulating pieces.

Lincoln Penny Struck on Dime Planchet

Image credit: Heritage Auctions

Occasionally, a coin will be struck on a blank, or planchet, meant for another type of coin. In 1951, the Denver Mint produced at least two Lincoln pennies on silver dime planchets. Since the dime was, and is, a smaller coin than the one cent piece, the resulting coin could not contain the entire image, part around the rim would be cut off.

The first example, an MS-62 1951-D silver dime mis-strike, sold at auction for $870.00 on July 15, 2022, at Heritage Auctions. The second, also sold by Heritage Auctions, on May 6, 2022, was a slightly higher graded coin, at MS-64. It realized $3,840.00 at auction. In the second case, the phrase, “In God We Trust” was partly cut off, and the “L”: in the word “Liberty” was also cut off, owing to the difference in sizes between the penny and the dime.

Broadstruck Lincoln Penny

A broadstruck coin is one in which the planchet did not fit properly within the retaining die. As a result, the striking dies will cause the coin to spread out over a wider space than usual, and the coin will be slightly larger than usual. A MS-64 RB 1951-D broadstruck coin sold at Heritage Auctions for $588.00.

Double Struck Lincoln Penny

A double struck coin is hit twice by the die, with one of the images being slightly off center as a result. No two of such coins will be exactly alike, and the coin will be considerably distorted as a result of the second strike. Coins with a visible date are considered more valuable than ones in which the date has been obliterated by the second striking. A good example might be this MS-65 BN 1951-D Lincoln penny, where the second strike hit on the upper left side of the obverse. It realized $900.00 at Heritage Auctions on December 21, 2022

Split Planchet Lincoln Penny

An internally defective planchet can split during striking. The result is a coin that may have perfectly fine detail on one side, and a partially missing image on the other side, where part of the coin simply flaked off. These defects are somewhat more common with clad coinage than with solid bronze, silver or nickel coins. A 1951 Lincoln penny, of course, is a solid coin, not a clad one. A 1951-D split planchet coin realized $91 on June 12, 2023, at Heritage Auctions.

Overmint Marks and the Lincoln Penny

The year 1951 was one of at least five years which saw the production of a number of pennies with an over-mint mark, the others being 1944, 1946, 1952 and 1956. At first glance this seems like an error which should not happen. In manufacturing a coin die, the basic die is made first, and then the date and the mint mark punched in through a separate process in a separate step. One would assume that each mint would take care of its own mint mark, with the Denver Mint punching in the “D” on site, and the San Francisco Mint doing likewise. In this period, however, the Philadelphia Mint handled the business of die production, and punched in the mint marks “D” or “S” as required.

For some reason, not entirely clear, the Mint repunched at least two of the dies originally intended for the San Francisco Mint, and placed a Denver Mint mark “D” almost, but not quite perfectly, over the pre-punched “S” These were then used for production of one cent pieces.

Coins for all five of the years tend to command significant prices when they appear at auction, usually, though not always, in excess of $2,000. Thus, a 1951 D-S overmintmark, graded as an MS-67, RD, sold for $2,040 on January 8, 2020, at Heritage Auctions. A similar coin from 1944, fetched $2,640 in October, 2019. Another example, from 1946, realized $3,055 at auction in October, 2012.

Repunched dies are not limited to Lincoln pennies. Buffalo nickels from the 1930’s sometimes have the same error, but command far higher prices.

A somewhat less valuable variation of overpunched mint mark, with the repunched mintmark in a slightly different location, can command far lower prices. This variation, at auctions, can realize hundreds, rather than thousands of dollars.

What were the technical specifications of the 1951 Lincoln penny?

The Lincoln penny was, in 1951, a bronze coin, made of 95% copper, and 5% tin and zinc. We usually think of American pennies as being copper, because of the shiny red appearance when new. The tin and zinc were added to give the coin a certain amount of hardness and durability in circulation.  It is 19mm in diameter, and weighs 3.11 grams. A modern penny is lighter, weighing only 2.5 grams. American pennies have a smooth rim, rather than a reeded edge.


The 1951 Lincoln penny is sufficiently common to be available at very low prices at all except the very highest grades. Exceptions exist for the highest uncirculated state, MS-67, and for some odd pieces here and there. It is a coin otherwise readily available and easily purchased by collectors in any grade.