Is a 1917 Penny Rare? Facts and Values

A jar of pennies surrounded by more pennies

Perhaps you found a jar of old change in a dresser drawer, looked through it, and found yourself wondering if you've got something worthwhile hidden in there. Holding an old coin, like a 19171 penny, in your hand, you can envision it as a rare coin worth hundreds, or maybe even thousands, of dollars. Your excitement quickly fades as you investigate the value of the coin, realizing that although it's probably worth more than a single cent, the 1917 penny isn't nearly as rare as you hoped.

Manufacturing the 1917 Penny

Although Lincoln head 1917 wheat pennies aren't rare, they're still considered collectible. In fact, in 1917 there were more than 284 million pennies minted. Divided among the different American mints this amounts to:

1917 Penny
  • 196 million in the Philadelphia mint
  • 55 million in the Denver mint
  • 33 million in the San Francisco mint

Behind the 1917 Penny's Value

The value of this historic penny depends on several factors:

  • Coin grade
  • Mint location
  • Rarity
  • Demand

Actually, there are some Lincoln 1917 wheat pennies that're worth hundreds, and even thousands, of dollars. However, these coins are graded in the high 60s to 70, on a scale of 1-70. Most of the older coins that have been in circulation are graded at a 4, which is good, to 12, which is fine. A coin with a grade of 4 is heavily worn, with the legend and design still visible. It may appear dull with lettering worn smooth and have faded areas. A grade 12 coin has strong, sharp and defined details on the areas of the coin that are, or should be, raised.

Wholesale and Retail Value of a 1917 Penny

Just like all collectibles, coins have a wholesale value and a retail value. The wholesale is the price a coin dealer pays to buy a coin. Retail is the price the dealer charges when he sells the coin.

1917 Lincoln Wheat Cent

According to J.M. Bullion's evaluations, the majority of 1917 pennies average wholesale worth ranges from approximately $0.30 in good condition, $0.50 to in fine condition, $4 in extremely fine condition, and $10 if uncirculated. Lincoln penny's from 1917 bearing a D or S mark can go for comparatively higher prices, such as uncirculated D penny's being worth $50 and uncirculated S penny's being worth $25, respectively.

However, these values don't take unique versions of these coins into account, and if you happen to have a misminted 1917 penny (such as double dying, being off-center, or so on) you're in for a greater financial return than regularly minted ones. Take, for instance, pennies struck with defective planchets; these coins can sell for anywhere between $4-$25 on average. Additionally, those with double die problems go for larger amounts, such as between $15-$100.

These are a few 1917 pennies that've recently sold on eBay, and can paint a clear picture of what the online market is currently like for coin collectors and sellers interested in these low-demand collectibles:

The retail value of the coin, or dealer pricing, although higher than the wholesale price, will vary based on the individual dealer and retailer. Generally, coins that're sold in conventional coin-oriented operations will have a retail price that is three to four times the wholesale value.

Determining the Value of a Coin

There are several methods you can use to determine the value of an old coin, such as a 1917 penny, which includes things like checking out the market or turning to concrete price guides to instruct you through the murky world of value assessment.

Online Auctions

Look on eBay to see the selling price of the same kind of coin that you've got in your collection. It's important to check the completed auctions in the section called Coins and Paper Money. Find a coin that's in the same condition as the one you have, and you'll get an idea of the actual prices that the artifact is bringing when sold at auction.

Online Resources

Check for the value of the coin on websites that report coin values. There are specific websites that provide wholesale and retail coin pricing, such as:

  • Best Coin - An excellent resource for amateur coin collectors, Best Coin provides valuable information on a number of topics of interest, including coin and currency values, grading information and charts, dealer directory, and links to other numismatic websites.
  • Professional Coin Grading Service - This company is a leading name in coin collecting and is considered the industry standard by many collectors for third party certification. The following are several of the additional services provided by PCGS: price guide, population report on each United States coin minted, coin prices realized at auctions, and dealer listing.
  • Coin Facts - This website provides detailed information on all of the coins minted in the United States.

Price Guides

You can also find the coin's value by using a coin collector's price guide, which is available in bookstores, libraries, and online.

JP's Corner offers the latest in coin collecting supplies and price guides including:

  • Whitman Red Book - A Guidebook of U.S. Coin: 7th Edition by Q. David Bowers, Jeff Garrett, and Kenneth Bressett
  • Whitman Red Book of United States Paper Money: 7th Edition by Arthur and Ira Friedburg

See a Penny, Pick It Up

When it comes to the thousands of 1917 pennies which were minted and put into circulation, their abundance means that you might not always think about picking one up when you see it. Sure, their old age makes them feel valuable, but their real worth lies not in the pristine examples but in the odd ones. 1917 pennies might not become the shining centerpiece of your collection, but a misminted coin can bring you in a pretty sweet paycheck. So, the next time you spy a penny, it's best to pick it up and see what treasure you might've gotten.

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Is a 1917 Penny Rare? Facts and Values