The 1949 Penny was a Wheat Cent, the earliest series of Lincoln Cents circulated by the US Mint. The series was significant because it was the first American coin to have a US President on it. George Washington previously refused this practice because it was ‘… what colonists and monarchies do – we are a democracy!’ So let’s learn more about the 1949 Penny Value.
1949 Penny Value Chart
|Mint Mark||Fine (F 12)||Extremely Fine
|About Uncirculated (AU 50)||Uncirculated (MS 6o)||Mint State
|1949 (P) No Mint Mark Penny Value||$0.05||$o.22||$0.39||$1.13||$3.30|
|1949-S Penny Value||$0.17||$0.33||$0.39||$1.13||$3.30|
|1949-D Penny Value||$0.05||$0.22||$0.39||$1.13||$3.30|
History of the 1949 Penny
Pennies are among the most collected coins in the world. The category includes Australian and British one-pence coins, but let’s focus on American pennies. They’ve gone through various styles and designs, and even a change in size. Earlier pennies were bigger (28.5 to 29 mm in diameter) and had denticles running along their rims. They were known as Large Cents.
Large Cents were close to 100% copper and generally featured a portrait of Lady Liberty. The coins were categorized according to the design on the obverse (heads side) and/or reverse (tails side). All these coins were minted in Philadelphia, and they had no mint marks since it was the only existing US Mint. As more mint branches opened, mint marks were introduced.
Curiously, the Large Cent wasn’t the first circulating US coin. That would be the Fugio Cent, aka the Franklin Cent, since Benjamin Franklin allegedly designed it in 1787. It’s based on the Continental Currency $1 coin, with the sun and a sundial on the obverse, plus the words Mind Your Business. The reverse had We Are One and 13 interlinked circles for the 13 states.
Large Pennies – 28.5mm to 29mm Diameter
|Flowing Hair aka Chain Cent||1793||Lady Liberty with Flowing Hair||15 Interlinked Chains for the 15 States|
|Flowing Hair aka Wreath Cent||1793||Flowing Hair with a 3-Leaf Sprig||Wreath and Bow Around One Cent|
|Liberty Cap Cent||1793 to 1796||Lady Liberty with a Phrygian Liberty Cap||Wreath and Bow Around One Cent|
|Draped Bust Cent||1796 to 1807||Lady Liberty with a Bow (Anne Bingham)||Wreath and Bow Around One Cent|
|Classic Head Cent||1808 to 1814||Lady Liberty with a Fillet (Greek Male Athletes’ Headband)||Wreath and Bow Around One Cent|
|Coronet Cent aka Matron Head||1815 to 1839
|Lady Liberty with Fillet, Curly Front||Wreath and Bow Around One Cent|
|Coronet Cent aka Braided Hair||1839 to 1857 with one more in 1868||Lady Liberty with Fillet, Braided Front||Wreath and Bow Around One Cent|
Later, Small Cents were introduced. They were 19.05mm in diameter. The Lincoln Cent of 1909 was the first to bear the portrait of a US President. It was minted to mark 100 years after Abraham Lincoln’s birth on 12th February 1809. Before Abe Lincoln, US Presidents were never placed on coins because the 1st President, George Washington, was against it.
He felt that the American Democratic Experiment should avoid any vestiges of colonial and imperial practices, and that included putting monarchs and heads of state on currency. But after the Lincoln Cent, US Presidents routinely graced American money. Even Washington himself was posthumously honored on circulating $1 bills, quarters (25c), and $1 coins.
Small Pennies – 19.05mm Diameter
|Flying Eagle Cent||1856 to 1858||Eagle in Flight||Wreath and Bow Around One Cent|
|Indian Head / Native American Head Cent||1859 to1909||Lady Liberty in Pearls and Male Native American Headdress||Wreath and Bow Around One Cent|
|Lincoln Wheat Cent||1909 to 1958||Abraham Lincoln||Two Wheat Stalks|
|Lincoln Memorial Cent||1959 to 2008||Abraham Lincoln||Lincoln Memorial Building|
Lincoln Bicentennial Cents (4 Versions)
|Reading Rail Splitter|
|Lincoln Shield Cent||2010 to Date||Abraham Lincoln||Union Shield|
$1 coins rarely circulate since most people prefer dollar bills. And Washington also appeared on the commemorative $5 gold coin issued in 1999. It marked his 200th anniversary. As for Lincoln, he also appears on circulating $5 bills. But the last contemporary US President to appear on American currency was John F. Kennedy back in 1964. He was on the half-dollar.
JFK’s 50c coin was minted to honor him a few weeks after he was assassinated in 1963. Since then, American Presidents have appeared on Presidential Medals. The US Mint makes one to commemorate every sitting president, and they also make medals for Mint Directors. But since Kennedy, no US president has appeared on any circulating American note or coin.
Victor Brenner and the 1949 Penny
The 1949 Penny was a Wheat Cent designed by Victor David Brenner. His birth name was Avigdor ben Gershon, and he was a Lithuanian Jew who emigrated to New York in 1890. He adopted an anglicized version of his name – this was a common practice among early arrivals to the US because it helped them assimilate. He took after his dad as a sealer and engraver.
But he later attended two prestigious schools in New York and Paris, namely the Cooper Union, where he learned sculpting, and the Académie Julian, where he learned painting and upgraded his sculpting skills. He worked as an assistant to Augustus Saint-Gaudens, the artist tapped to beautify American coins in 1904. It was a direct request from the president.
Theodore Roosevelt, the 23rd US President, felt the coins designed by in-house mint engravers were conservative, practical, and not sufficiently artistic. So he asked for external artists to be hired so they could make the coins prettier. Saint-Gaudens started the task, and when he died of cancer in 1907, a few of his assistants continued, including Victor Brenner.
When he first designed the Lincoln Cent in 1909, Victor placed his insignia on the coin. But the public and mint official felt his surname – and later his initials – were too large and advertorial, so they were scrubbed off the coin. This controversy was eventually resolved in 1918 when VDB (Victor David Brenner) was reinstated in the coin. By 1949, it was standard.
The metal composition of the penny changed over the years, ranging from 99% copper, 95% copper + zinc and tin, 95% copper + zinc, 99% zinc + 1% steel, and eventually, 97.5% zinc + 2.5% copper. This last alloy is what we use today, but the 1949 Penny was the bronze mix of 95% copper with the remainder in tin and zinc. It’s the most common composition for cents.
Features of the 1949 Penny
For collectors are resellers, the mint mark is one of the most important features of a coin. It can vastly add to the value, particularly the S mint mark. It’s typically the lowest mintage volume and is often a proof set, so it generates a lot of interest. But before we get into the location-specific details of these coins, let’s look at the physical characteristics of the 1949 Penny.
The Obverse of the 1949 Penny
The obverse (heads side) of the 1949 Penny has a right-facing profile of Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States. It was sculpted by Victor David Brenner, based on a desk plaque he earlier made for Gorham Manufacturing. The portrait was sculpted from an 1864 photo of the president. The photo was taken by an assistant at Matthew Brady’s studio.
The VDB controversy was finally resolved in 1918, so this 1949 Penny has a tiny VDB (Victor David Brenner) on Lincoln’s shoulder cut-off. The mint date is on the lower right, in front of his chest, and the mint mark is directly below the date. Above his head is the legend In God We Trust on the left, behind his collar, is the word Liberty. This coin doesn’t have denticles.
The Reverse of the 1949 Penny
The reverse (tails side) of the 1949 Penny features two sheaves of wheat arranged along the sides. This pair of wheat stalks form a well-balanced frame around the wording on the coin. At the top of the reverse, the motto E Pluribus Unum runs from one wheat tip to the other, with a dot on either side of Pluribus. Below that is the coin’s denomination, One Cent.
Under the denomination are the words United States of America. The wheat reverse was designed by Brenner as well, but his initials aren’t listed. In later years when the reverse design was changed, the back of the coin would have the insignia of the new reverse designer. (FG for Frank Gasparro on the Memorial Penny, or CLV for the Charles Vicker Bicentennial.)
Other Features of the 1949 Penny
The 1949 Penny has a smooth edge, sometimes described as a plain edge. This means it has no reeds on the side. It’s a relatively small coin at 19.05mm (0.75”) in diameter, and in 1949, its metal composition was 95% copper with the rest in zinc and tin. The coin weighs 3.11g and is graded RD (red), RB (reddish-brown), or BN (brown). RD is the highest color rating.
In 1949, the mint didn’t make any proof coins. Instead, they made a fifteen-coin special mint set (SMS) of all the circulating coins including a (P), S, and D Penny. They were worth $5.45 at the time, but complete sets sell for $1,200 today! For reference, SMS coins are as shiny as proofs, but are minted on unburnished planchets and are only struck once at high pressure.
1949 Penny Value Guide
The resale value – or even the collector’s value – of the 1949 Penny is dictated by multiple factors. These include the mint mark, the condition, and any notable errors on the coin.
1949 (P) No Mint Mark Penny Value
In 1949, the Philadelphia Mint made 217,775,000 Wheat Pennies without mint marks. A coin graded MS 67 RD can go for about $8,000. One was known to hit $12,075 at a 2006 auction.
1949-S Penny Value
The San Francisco Mint coined 64,290,000 Wheat Pennies in 1949. They carried the S Mint Mark, but none of them were proofs. High-grade 1926-S Pennies can resell for around $625.
1949-D Penny Value
The Denver Mint produced 153,132,500 Wheat Pennies in 1949. These coins bore the D Mint Mark. In MS 67+ RD, one of these sold for more than $5,700, and another coin was $7,500.
1949 Penny Errors
Coin errors can range from machining mistakes to mixed-up dates and designs. They can happen at the hub, die, or planchet stage and some errors are worth more than others. Let’s dig into some common 1949 Penny Errors that can make your 1-cent coin worth reselling. We might mention planchets a few times. The planchet is the blank disc that makes the coin.
1949 D/D Penny RPM Error
Unless it’s a special mint set (SMS), every hub, die, and planchet passes through the machine several times to make sure the details are clear. Buy while the machine reproduces the date, words, and portraits, the mint mark was placed by hand until 1989. So it might be repunched by unsteady hands, aka RPM. This D/D Penny is worth $35 in AU 53 and $400 in MS 65 RD.
1949 S/S RPM Penny Error
Re-punched mint marks can be classified as D over D, written as D/D. If it’s an S, it might be S/D or S/S. In this case, we’re looking at an S that was punched slightly to the right of the earlier S. In MS 65 RD, this coin sold for $70. But let’s go back to the D/Ds for a moment. If the RPM can be seen with the naked eye, like a diagonal D/D, it can be worth $900 ungraded!
1949 Penny DDO Error
When coins are being made, you start by imprinting the design onto a hub, using the hub to make a die, then using the die to make a coin. And each of these involves several strikes. If the die shifts between strikes, it can cause and doubling or tripling error that will be copied onto every coin made with that flawed die. This DDO is visible on the 4 and is worth $300.
1949 Penny Doubled-Eye Error
Two common errors on Lincoln Pennies are the doubled-eye and doubled-ear. Technically, they’re both DDOs, but while the clearest place to spot doubling is on the words and dates, you can spot a doubling on the eyelid or earlobes of some pennies. While doubled-ears are worth up to $3,000, the doubled-eye is far less pricy. A 1949 Doubled-Eye is $20 in MS 65.
1949 Penny 90% Off-Centre Error
The hub, die, or planchet sometimes moves around between strikes. This causes doubling, tripling, or even quadrupling errors. If the shift happens at the die stage, it’s called a variety because every batch of coins made with that die will have an identical mistake. But if the planchet moves, part of the coin stays blank. A 90% off-center error sold for $630 in 2021.
1949 Penny 80% Off-Centre Error
A coin that’s over 75% off-center doesn’t impress collectors much because at that point, most of the coin’s surface is blank, so it’s like buying an empty disc. This off-center error and the previous one are valuable because the part of the coin that got stamped was the year! So the coin is a treasure to people interested in 1949 pennies. This one auctioned for $490 in 2012.
FAQs About the 1949 Penny
How Rare is a 1949 Penny?
The 1949 Penny isn’t especially rare. Almost 500M were minted that year from all three mints. And 1949 wasn’t that long ago, so lots of these coins are still in circulation today.
What Year is the Rarest Penny?
American pennies have gone through several iterations, including the Large Cent Series (1793 to 1857) and the Small Cent Series (1856 to date). Large Cents were 28.57 to 29mm in diameter, while Small Cents were – and still are – 19.05mm in diameter. Both categories have multiple subsets of coins, such as the Lincoln Wheat Cent and the Draped Bust Cent.
The rarest year for pennies is 1877. Back then, it was known as the Indian Head Penny, though today we might call it the Native American Head Penny. The coin was designed by Chief Mint Engraver James B. Longacre and featured Lady Liberty in the ‘feathered tiara’ or Native American Headdress usually worn by men. Only 852,500 of these coins were minted.