What is a Wheat Penny? 5 Things You Need To Know

A wheat penny is the name given to a variety of rare US coins that feature a picture of a wheat field on the reverse, as opposed to the typical portrait of the president or some other head of state. The first wheat penny was minted in the 1840s and the last was minted in 1892.

What is a Wheat Penny?

The United States Mint made one-cent coins called “wheat cents” from 1909 to 1958. The term “wheat cent” comes from the back of the coin, which had a sheaf of wheat on both sides and the words “ONE CENT” and “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA” in between.

Over the top, the Latin words “E PLURIBUS UNUM,” which mean “out of many, one,” were written. On the back (reverse) of the coin, there was a picture of Abraham Lincoln next to the words “IN GOD WE TRUST,” “LIBERTY,” and the year that the coin was made.

What is a Wheat Penny

The wheat cent, which is also called a Lincoln wheat cent or a wheatback penny, is a valuable collectible that has a lot to do with history.

In 1909, to mark the 100th anniversary of Lincoln’s birth, wheat pennies were made. On August 2, 1909, they were the first U.S. coins to show a real person.

The letters V.D.B., which stood for designer Victor David Brenner and were at the bottom of the back of the wheat pennies, caused a lot of trouble soon after they came out.

Many people thought that the New York sculptor’s initials shouldn’t have been so big and visible on the coin. The others didn’t know what the letters meant or why they were used.

What is a Wheat Penny

“V.D.B.” Removed

Franklin MacVeagh, who was the U.S. Treasury Secretary at the time, acted quickly to fix the problem by telling Brenner’s initials to be taken off. In 1909, the United States Mint in Philadelphia made about 28 million wheat pennies with the initials.

The United States Mint in San Francisco put a tiny “S” under the year on each of the roughly 484,000 coins that were made. Collectors want 1909-S VDB wheat pennies made in San Francisco very much because they are hard to find.

A 50-Year Run

With some changes, the wheat cent was still in use until 1958. In 1918, the initials that caused trouble were brought back. On this coin, though, they were under Lincoln’s shoulder on the front, on the obverse.

The Lincoln Memorial replaced the wheat sheaves on the back of the penny in 1959, 50 years after the wheat penny first came out.

This was the end of the wheat penny’s circulation. In honor of Lincoln’s 150th birthday, this change was made.


During World War II, copper wasn’t used in coins because it was needed for the war. This meant that the metal used for wheat pennies changed many times. The first wheat pennies were made of bronze, which is an alloy of 95% copper, 5% tin, and 5% zinc.

In 1943, the coins were made of zinc-coated steel, which made them look silver and easy to mix up with dimes, which are worth 10 cents in the United States.

A year later, the U.S. Mint stopped making steel pennies and started making brass wheat pennies out of melted-down bullet casings, which were 95% copper and 5% zinc.

What is a Wheat Penny

After World War II ended in 1945, wheat pennies went back to being made of the same metals they had been made of before. They stayed in circulation until 1958.


Wheat pennies, like U.S. pennies today, were 0.75 inches across (19.05 mm). They are only about 0.06 inches thick (or 1.5 mm). Depending on the metals used to make them, wheat pennies can weigh anywhere from 0.2 to 0.6 grams.

The average weight of ones that are mostly copper is about 0.11 ounces (3.1 g). A wheat penny made mostly of steel weighs about 0.095 ounces on average (2.7 g).

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