1973 was an interesting year for pennies because they introduced aluminum samples. To date, less than a handful remain, so most of the ones you find will be the usual French bronze version. 1973 pennies are Lincoln Memorial pennies, meaning that famous structure sits on the back of the coin. Let’s analyze the facts and verify the most authentic 1973 Penny Value.
1973 Penny Value Chart
|Mint Mark||Good (G 4)||Fine (F 12)||Extremely Fine (EF 40)||Uncirculated (MS 60)||Mint State (MS 65)|
|1973 ‘P’ No Mint Mark Penny Value||$0.02||$0.02||$0.02||$0.02||$0.33|
|1973 S Penny Value||$0.02||$0.02||$0.02||$0.02||$0.96|
|1973 D Penny Value||$0.02||$0.02||$0.02||$0.02||$0.33|
History of the 1973 Penny
Pennies have always borne the features of Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States. He was the first US President – and the first recognizable person – to appear on any American currency. Before him, coins and notes would typically be graced by a symbolic portrait that depicted Lady Liberty. But President Theodore Roosevelt had far grander ideas.
Roosevelt felt American currency should be aesthetic as well as functional, so he advocated for professional artists to design them, not just mint engravers. Augustus Saint-Gaudens was the first such hire. But he died before reworking the penny, and one of his assistants, Victor David Brenner, stepped in to complete the task. His reverse design stayed in use until 1958.
In December 1958, the President’s Press Secretary announced a change to the back of the Lincoln Cent. Previously, they were known as wheat pennies because they had two ears of durum wheat on the reverse. The new design would still have VDB’s Lincoln on the front, but the reverse would be the Lincoln Memorial designed by Assistant Engraver Frank Gasparro.
The Memorial Penny hit the streets on 12th February 1959. If he had still been alive, it would have been Lincoln’s 150th birthday. By 1973, the Memorial Penny was still in use, but copper was getting too pricy and people were starting to hoard pennies. So the Mint experimented with aluminum pennies dated 1973 but coined in 1974. They made more than 1.5M coins.
But these ‘silver pennies’ often jammed the coin slots in vending machines so the aluminum idea was dropped. At the time, Mint Director Mary Brooks tried to retrieve all the aluminum cents, but at least 14 remain unaccounted for. Another suggestion was to use steel pennies clad with bronze, and a few slipped into the open market. Both these coins are illegal to own.
That said, most 1973 pennies are the standard version with 95% copper and a 5% mixture of zinc and tin. If you find any of the bronze or ‘silver’ 1973 pennies, you could make a lot of money. But you’d either have to sell the coin privately or have solid lineage to prove how you got the coin. This matters because both left the Mint illegally, so resellers can be prosecuted.
Features of the 1973 Penny
The 1973 Penny is part of the Memorial Cent series. It was introduced in 1959 to celebrate 150 years since the birth of Abraham Lincoln and was officially launched on his birthday.
The Obverse of the 1973 Penny
The obverse (heads side) of the 1973 Penny has a portrait of President Lincoln. It was based on a desk plaque that Brenner had made in 1907 for the Gorham Manufacturing Company. In the portrait, the president faces right and has the legend In God We Trust floating above his head. He’s presumably wearing a tuxedo since he’s in a bow tie and a formal-looking coat.
Behind him, the word Liberty is stamped (on the left) and in front of him, the minting year appears with the mint mark below it. At his shoulder cut-off, a tiny VDB announces Victor Brenner as the coin designer. These maker’s marks raised a lot of controversy because they were much larger to begin with, and at some point, they were removed completely until 1918.
The Reverse of the 1973 Penny
While Victor Brenner designed the original wheat sheaf reverse of the Lincoln Cent, the 1973 version carries a sculpture of the Lincoln Memorial instead. It was designed by Frank Gasparro, who was the Assistant Engraver at the time, and later became Chief Mint Engraver from 1965 to 1981. Interestingly, he was born in 1909, the same year as Abe and the penny.
The upper collar of the coin reads United States of America while the lower collar reads One Cent. The memorial fills the center of the coin with E Pluribus Unum directly above it. The initials FG (for Frank Gasparro) are on the right of the building, squashed in next to the side steps. You can see the shadowy figure of Lincoln’s statue through the coin’s middle column.
Other Features of the 1973 Penny
The 1973 Penny – like all pennies – has a smooth, unreeded edge. In 1973, the coin was officially made of 95% copper with 5% tin and zinc, but as we’ve mentioned, a few stray coins were made with zinc cladding or aluminum. The latter are often referred to as silver pennies because of their color. Most of these coins were returned to the mint, but a few did escape.
1973 pennies weigh 3.11g and are 19.05mm in diameter. That’s 0.75 inches. Because of the sneaky composition options, it’s crucial to weigh any 1973 pennies you find. You might not know they’re contraband just by looking, but the scale will distinguish the aluminum and alloy versions, plus any other error coins that might be valuable. So let’s look into that now.
1973 Penny Value Guide
The 1973 penny draws a lot of interest because of the rumored varieties from 1974. They still bear the 1973 mintage year, but everyone is seeking those elusive ‘silver’ Lincoln cents.
1973 No Mint Mark Penny Value
In 1973, the Philadelphia Mint produced 3,728,245,000 pennies. These coins are sometimes described as ‘P’ pennies, with the P in quotes because there was no official P mint mark until the 1980s. Either way, a 1973 Philadelphia Penny in MS 67+ RD sells for more than $3,850.
1973 S Penny Value
1973 saw 319,937,634 pennies from the San Francisco Mint. Because they have the lowest mintage, they typically get better prices at auctions. But it has to be in pristine condition. Check the reverse to see if you can spot the Lincoln statue. In MS 67 RD, it sold for $2,232.
1973 D Penny Value
The Denver Mint coined 3,549,576,588 pennies in 1973, so in terms of volume, it’s not especially rare. And because 1973 pennies are barely worth a buck, they only get attention if they’re graded MS 66 or higher. A 1973-D Penny rated MS 67 RD was once sold for $4,993.
1973 ‘Silver’ Penny Value
The ‘silver’ 1973 penny isn’t made of silver – it’s an aluminum coin. And although well over 1.5M were made, only a handful survived destruction. The initial coins never left the mint, but some were given to officials and Congress members, and not all the coins found their way back. While it’s illegal to own and/or sell these coins, their estimated value is $250,000 each.
1973 Penny Errors
Sometimes, counterfeiters will deliberately damage a coin to raise its resale value. It’s why appraisers and numismatists keep records on the most common varieties of error coins. Still, if you spot a 1973 penny with a distinct flaw, it might be worth getting it graded. That way, it can be added to the official list of known errors and varieties. Let’s look at some popular ones.
1973 Penny Partial Collar/Brockage + Strike-Thru Errors
Because 1973 pennies are only worth their melt value, they have to be in exceptional condition to get a good price. So even a coin like this with dramatic errors will only sell for $35 in MS 63 RB. The coin has a brockage error, meaning the same flaw is on both sides of the coin. It also has a partial collar and a strike-thru, yet all three errors are barely valuable.
1973 Penny Struck on a Dime
Every coin has a specified weight, size, and metal composition. So using the wrong planchet denomination makes quite a difference to the appearance, melt value, and collector’s value of the coin. This 1973 penny was struck on a dime. An actual dime, not just a blank disc, so the coin contains legends and devices from both 1c and 10c! In MS 66, the coin sold for $860.
1973 Penny Double Struck 90% Off-Centre
Every die and coin is struck several times to ensure the details show clearly. But sometimes, the die or the planchet moves between strikes. In this case, the planchet moved so far off the machine that it almost dropped! As a result, the next strike barely grazed the coin and ended up 90% off-center. This double-strike error in MS 63 RB earned a solid resale price of $590.
1973 Penny Obverse Struck Thru Capped Die
Are you old enough to remember lens caps? Old cameras had a cap to protect the glass, so if you snapped a photo without taking the cap off, your picture would be blank! Well, dies have caps too, and the person minting this penny forgot to remove it! The cap ruined the detail on the coin, causing blurry features and a strike-thru. In MS 66 RD, the error coin sold for $140.
1973 Penny Obverse Brockage Error
Brockage errors can be puzzling. Sometimes, it’s a cut that crosses both sides of the coin. Other times, it’s a coin that looks normal on one side but has a mirror image on the other, meaning the same flaw bled through. This 1973 Penny has obverse brockage covering half of Lincoln’s face. The error resembles an enlarged penny font. In MS 64 RD, it sold for $220.
1973 Penny Broadstruck Part Brockage Error
Here’s another puzzling coin. Just like the one above, a second coin was struck over the first one at an angle, covering most of Lincoln’s features. The coin is broadstruck too, which means the collar slipped off during minting and allowed the coin to flatten and spill outside its borders. But this corroded coin only managed to sell for $20 despite its high MS 60 grade.
1973 Penny Uniface Reverse Error
Always weigh your coins. Before you even glance at it or do anything else, grab that scale. Why? The mass will instantly tell you whether the coin deserves a closer look. This penny weighs 3.05g instead of 3.11g, so that’s your first clue. When you flip the coin, you’ll notice the reverse is barely there, so it’s essentially a one-sided coin. In MS 65 BN, it sold for $80.
1973 Penny Obverse Die Break
Sometimes stuff breaks. Even expensive stuff like mint hubs or dies. And when they crack, the damage gets transferred onto the coin. Die breaks are sometimes called cud errors, and the size of the cud influences the coin’s pricing. This 1973 D penny had an obverse die break that erased the back half of Lincoln’s head. The coin is graded MS 63 BN and sold for $450.
1973 Penny Struck on a 10c Planchet
This error can be tricky. Dimes (10-cent coins) were 10% copper and 90% silver until 1965, then they changed to 91.67% copper and 8.33% nickel. In both cases, the coin has a shiny grey color (aka silver), so this error coin may be mistaken for the far more valuable ‘silver penny’ made of aluminum. But this mis-denominated coin is still worth $450 in MS 61.
FAQs About the 1973 Penny
How Much is a 1973 Penny Worth Today?
Because the current price of copper (October 2022) is $0.11 per ounce, the melt value of a typical penny is worth at least $0.02. But error coins and high-grade coins can fetch better prices. If the grade is high enough to see Lincoln’s statue, you could get close to $5,000.
Is a 1973 S Penny Rare?
Yes. In 1973, Denver made over 3.5B coins while Philadelphia made more than 3.7B. But San Francisco made slightly less than 350M coins, which is roughly 10% of the other two mints. These low figures make the 1973 S Penny rarer (and more costly) than 1973 ‘P’ or D pennies.
Why is a 1973 Penny Worth So Much?
Ordinary 1973 pennies are only worth a cent or two. But if you bump into some of the rarer specimens like a ‘silver’ penny (made of aluminum) or a brass penny (loaded with less copper and extra tin), you could get premium pricing. The rarity of these unusual metal mixes adds value to the coin. Of course, if you find a verified 1973 error coin, even better!