A first glance at the 1920 penny might make you think it is a modern-day coin. But upon a closer look, you’ll likely notice subtle features of the coin. The coin’s fine features and its remarkable old age make it a must-have for every coin collector.
The 1920 penny is a rare cent consisting of 95 % Copper and an alloy of tin and Zinc. Born out of the desire to honor a hero and famous president, the wheat penny is undoubtedly a household name in the history of currency production.
In this article, you’ll learn about the iconic Lincoln penny, its value, history, and some frequently asked questions.
What is 1920 Wheat Penny?
The Lincoln Penny (Lincoln cent) is a single cent coin struck by the United States of America from 1909in. It is sometimes called the ‘Wheat Penny’ as it depicts two wheat stalks on its reverse face.
History of the 1920 Penny
The 1920 penny dates back to 1909, designed by Victor David Brenner, a Litvak-American engraver, sculptor, and medalist. Brenner’s obverse design of the coin is one of the longest existing and most reproduced in the United States’ artwork history.
Victor Brenner drew inspiration for the coin’s design from a shallow depiction of the late President Abraham Lincoln on a plaque he had designed earlier. Incredibly, Brenner’s artwork came to the attention of then-President Theodore Roosevelt, who was greatly impressed by Brenner’s artwork.
So in 1909, the president ordered a redesign of the Lincoln penny based on Brenner’s plaque to mark the 100th celebration of the late Abraham Lincoln’s birthday. Victor Brenner’s design received approval and was first issued as a coin on August 2, 1909.
Initially, Victor Brenner’s wheat penny contained his full name, like the norm for signatures printed on various coins in neighboring countries. However, the Director of Mint advocated for victor’s initials instead of the names. The coin would later have the initials ‘VDB’ between the wheat stalks at the bottom of the coin’s reverse.
After public criticism, Victor Brenner’s initials were removed from the coin. However, in 1918, the initials returned and were printed below President Lincoln’s shoulders. To date, some Lincoln wheat cents still bear Victor David Brenner’s initials as a standard practice.
Which US Mint Made the 1920 Penny?
The early 1920s rolled off with a massive production of the Lincoln Wheat Penny in three mints across the US.
San Francisco, Philadelphia, and Denver mints produced more than 400 million wheat pennies in 1920, with Philadelphia minting the most significant share at 310,165,000 coins. Denver and San Francisco mints each produced 49,280,000 and 46,220,000, respectively.
Reason for Minting
The 1920 penny is an icon in the country’s history as it was born out of necessity to commemorate the 100th birthday of the late president Abraham Lincoln.
Influenced by a continued push for a Lincoln coin by the public, President Theodore Roosevelt was determined to honor his fellow statesman who had been assassinated. In addition, this would be a remarkable achievement as none of the US coins in circulation bore the image of a human being.
So, with a public proposal to honor Abraham Lincoln, Victor Brenner rolled off the project with his first design of the wheat penny.
Features of the 1920 Penny
For easy identification, the 1920 Lincoln Penny has distinct features on its obverse and reverse sides.
The obverse side features the late President Abraham Lincoln’s portrait facing the right-hand direction. He wears a coat and a bow tie.
Above Lincoln’s head is an inscription “IN GOD WE TRUST” which appears in a curved format along the upper edge of the coin.
The word “LIBERTY” appears as a straight-line text behind the portrait of Abraham Lincoln. In addition, the official year of issue is written in front of the late president’s image, slightly near his chest.
The reverse of the 1920 Lincoln penny has four distinct features.
First, the denominational value of the coin appears on the upper portion of the face. The deal is a straight-line text written in block letters. All 1920 wheat coins have a denominational value of one cent.
Above the denominational value is the slogan “E PLURIBUS UNUM,” written in a curved format along the upper edge of the coin. Two conspicuous dots separate both “E” and “PLURIBUS” as well as “PLURIBUS” and “UNUM.”
The coin has two identical wheat strands on each side of the outer edges, designed in a way that they face each other.to
The word “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA” appears between the two wheat strands.
In 2010, the 1920 wheat penny underwent significant changes on its tail side. The new design by Lyndall Bass features a union shield bearing the slogan “E PLURIBUS UNUM.” The denominational value is on the lower end of the shield, while the words “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA” appear above the shield in a curved format.
A mintmark is a crucial feature of the 1920 penny as it tells you which mint struck the coin. Each of the three mints that struck the wheat penny put mintmarks on the coin’s obverse side.
To identify the mint that produced your coin, simply look at the obverse side below the year of issue at the extreme right. The letter “D” denotes Denver Mint, while “S” denotes San Francisco Mint. However, all coins struck at the main mint located in Philadelphia do not have a mintmark.
On the Lincoln Penny, you will find three main slogans, namely “IN GOD WE TRUST,” “E PLURIBUS UNUM,” and “LIBERTY.”
The word “E PLURIBUS UNUM” is a Latin word that stands for “out of many, one.” It denotes America’s ability to form a nation out of multiple states.
The word “LIBERTY” signifies an all-important value and founding principle of the United States of America.
The words “IN GOD WE TRUST” are symbolic of the nation’s religious sentiments expressed by its citizens during the past civil wars.
The Lincoln coin is an alloy of Copper, Zinc, and Tin. Copper is the dominant metal forming 95% of the currency. Zinc and Tin, on the other hand, have a combined metal composition of 5%. However, all Lincoln coins struck from 1982 consist of 97.5% Zinc and 2.5% Copper.
Weight and Dimensions
Before 1982, all wheat coins weighed 3.11 grams. Steel cents struck during the Second World War weighed about 2.7 grams. Today’s coins are lighter, weighing about 2.5 grams, and consist of Copper-plated Zinc. Additionally, a Lincoln cent is 19.05mm wide.
Value of the 1920 Penny
Wheat pennies have a numismatic appeal, hence always valued higher than their face value. This, together with their high content of metal, makes them a viable investment for coin collectors.
Below are the various values of the 1920 penny.
The coin is worth one cent at face value. That’s about 1/100th of the US dollar. This is the value indicated on the coin’s obverse side.
How Much Is the Metal in the 1920 Penny Worth?
The melt value of the coin depends on the type of alloy used for minting. Currently, most wheat pennies consist of 97.5% Zinc and only 2.5% Copper. So, depending on when your Lincoln coin was struck, your melt value could be higher by about $20 for every penny.
How Much Is the Coin at the Pawn Shop?
At the pawnshop, your Lincoln cent could fetch higher prices depending on its current condition. If it’s in a bad condition, you would earn between 5-10 cents. If in good shape, your coin could fetch about 75 cents.
However, if you took your Lincoln penny to a reclamation plant, they would pay you about $2 for every penny.
Comparison Table Showing the Value of the 1920 Penny
|Coin Date/Condition||1920||1920 S||1920 D|
Factors that Influence the Value of the 1920 Penny
Not all Lincoln pennies have the same value. Below are vital factors that may determine if the wheat penny in your pocket is valuable.
Mistruck Error Coin
An error coin on a wheat penny appears different from other specimens of the same type. For instance, if your penny has a missing year of issue on its reverse face, it has more value than its counterparts of the same type and quality do.
A 1920 Lincoln penny may have the following errors:
- Argentina Planchets mistakenly struck on a foreign planchet and are only 15 in number
- Lamination Errors portraying cracks or flakes around the coin’s outer layer
- Die scratches and off-center strikes
New or Clean Coins
How new or clean is your coin? Generally, a new coin has an attractive, shiny surface, yet won’t fetch more than an older coin. So, anything that makes your wheat penny coin appear new will not add to its value.
The scarcity or abundance of your coin will determine its value. If many people have the wheat penny, then the less rare it will be, hence not valuable. For instance, San Francisco and Denver Mints are scarcest and highly valued than the Philadelphia mint.
The grade is determined by how much wear the penny has since its minting. Depending on its condition, your coin may be good, fine, extremely fine, or uncirculated. A wheat penny in uncirculated condition will fetch a higher price than its kindred in extremely fine condition. A coin in circulated condition will have visible signs of wear on both the obverse or reverse faces.
1. How Rare is a 1920 Penny?
The Lincoln cent has a score of 1 on the rarity scale, meaning it is abundant. Many of the coins struck in the early 90s are readily available and in high circulation.
2. What Makes a 1920 Penny Rare?
A 1920 wheat penny is classified as rare if it exists in its original, uncirculated condition, and exhibits its original reddish color. Finding an uncirculated 1920 wheat coin is extremely hard, hence it is highly valuable.
3. Which Year Penny is Worth Keeping?
All Lincoln cent coins struck between 1959-1982 are highly valued, hence worth keeping. This is because they contain 95% Copper, unlike those minted after 1982 which have a dominant Zinc content.
Winding Up: So, is the 1920 Penny Worth Collecting?
Pennies are among the lowly valued coins currently circulating in the United States of America. However, the 1920 Lincoln penny is still valuable in its uncirculated condition. So, if you are a coin collector or numismatics enthusiast, be sure to add it to your list of collectibles.
Do you have more questions about the 1920 Lincoln Penny? Tell us!