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What is the rarest copper penny?

Copper pennies have been minted in the United States since the late 1700s, with many rare and valuable varieties emerging over the last 200+ years. While factors like mintage, errors, and condition determine rarity and value, a few key dates stand out as the rarest and most coveted copper pennies.

The 1909-S VDB Lincoln Wheat Penny

The 1909-S VDB Lincoln wheat penny is widely considered the rarest and most valuable copper penny. Here’s a quick overview:

  • The “S” mintmark indicates it was minted in San Francisco.
  • The designer’s initials “VDB” stand for Victor David Brenner, who created the Lincoln cent design.
  • Only 484,000 were minted, far fewer than 1909 VDB pennies without the S mintmark.
  • High demand from collectors has driven prices over $1,000 for coins in top condition.

The rare mintage was partly due to the new Lincoln cent design replacing the Indian Head cent in 1909. The VDB initials also caused controversy and were removed from the coin later in 1909, adding to the demand.

The 1943 Copper Penny

In 1943, copper was considered a strategic metal needed for World War II, so pennies were instead minted in zinc-coated steel. However, a tiny number of 1943 pennies were erroneously minted in copper, making them incredibly rare and valuable:

  • Only 40 1943 copper pennies are confirmed to exist.
  • They were created when leftover copper blanks from 1942 were accidentally mixed in at the mint.
  • The most expensive 1943 copper cent sold for over $1 million in 2010.
  • Any 1943 penny that sticks to a magnet is steel and worth a few cents. A copper version is highly valuable.

The 1793 Chain Cent

The first year of issue for the large cent, the 1793 chain cent is enormously historic and rare. Here are some key notes:

  • Lady Liberty faces right on the obverse, chained to the word “Liberty.”
  • The chain was controversial, replaced mid-1793 by a wreath design.
  • Only about 40,000 were minted, with an estimated 500 survivors today.
  • High-grade examples can sell for over $100,000 at auction.

While condition drives the value, the 1793 chain cent is landmarks in early American numismatics and a must-have rarity for serious collectors.

The 1856 Flying Eagle Cent

Though short-lived, the small cent sized 1856 Flying Eagle cent has a vaunted place in U.S. coinage:

  • The Flying Eagle design by James B. Longacre replaced the large copper cent.
  • Around 2,000 specimens were minted as presentation proofs.
  • It is the sole issue before the Indian Head cent was introduced in 1859.
  • About 150 examples survive today, with prices starting around $15,000.

These prototypes paved the way for the Flying Eagle and Indian Head small cents from 1856 to 1909. The coins are avidly pursued by collectors of both large cents and small cents.

The 1969-S Double Die Obverse Lincoln Cent

This dramatic doubled die error makes the 1969-S penny a flagship rarity:

  • It shows strong doubling of “In God We Trust” and Liberty.
  • Around 100,000 were minted, but only 20,000-30,000 released into circulation.
  • MS-65 examples sell for over $50,000 at major auctions.
  • Lesser worn or impaired pieces still bring four- and five-figure prices.

While double dies like the 1955 doubled die fetch higher prices, the 1969-S is more realistically obtainable for many collectors. It anchors many advanced Lincoln cent sets.

The 1877 Indian Head Cent

The Indian Head cent, minted from 1859 to 1909, boasts a key date and condition rarity in 1877:

  • Only 852,500 were minted, one of the lowest figures for the series.
  • Many were melted down, with an estimated 136 to 500 left today.
  • Low supply and high demand equals big prices, even in poor condition.
  • Mint state examples easily exceed $10,000 and have sold for over $100,000.

While great rarities like the 1877 cent come at a steep price, they offer tangible history and value that everyday pennies simply do not possess.

Other Rare and Key Date Pennies

Beyond the top tier rarities above, other rare and valuable copper pennies to look out for are:

  • 1864 “L” on Ribbon cent (only 20-30 known)
  • 1873 Doubled LIBERTY cent (~40 known)
  • 1877 Doubled Die Obverse cent (~20 known)
  • 1909-S Indian Head cent (key low-mintage issue)
  • 1931-S Lincoln cent (rare branch mint issue)
  • 1922 No D cent (from worn dies and no Denver mintmark)

As with all coins, mintage, condition, demand, eye appeal, and tiny differences can make certain pieces worth a fortune. Rarity evolves over time as new varieties are discovered. Part of the allure of numismatics is the endless opportunities waiting to be unearthed from pocket change.


After 200 years of minting, the rarest and most coveted U.S. pennies have become highly prized artifacts of history. Key dates like the 1793 chain cent, 1877 Indian Head cent, and 1943 copper cent tell fascinating stories and carry huge price tags. More recently, minting errors and condition rarities have further expanded the list of elite copper pennies. As minting technology improves to prevent errors, new rarities become harder to find, increasing the value of those already in collector hands. The rich past and finite supply of these rare pennies will likely make them only more desirable treasures as time goes on.