Gerri writes: I have a lot of Wheat back pennies. I’m curious to know whether any of them might be valuable. What are the certain dates and letters that make some more valuable than others? And what makes them more valuable? What should I look for? Thanks, Gerri.
Coin and paper money values are based on a combination of rarity, grade and collector demand.
Absolute rarity is related to the number of pieces of a particular issue originally minted and how many of those survive today. Relative rarity brings collector demand for that issue into the equation. A particular date and mintmark from a more popular series will bring more than an issue with the same number of surviving specimens that is not as popular.
A coin’s grade is based upon an evaluation of its present condition or state of preservation in relation to that which existed when the coin was first minted. For more info on grading, see: U.S. Coin Grading
The value of Lincoln cents is established by collectors who compete to find the grades, dates and mint marks they need for their collections. For example, red uncirculated examples from the 1930’s can bring $5 to $100 but circulated examples except for the 1931-S are virtually face value. The mint marks, the small letters that accompany the date, represent the mint where they were issued. For Lincoln cents the only mints are Philadelphia (no mint mark),(D)enver and (S)an Francisco. Some issues are rare because of circumstances. Good examples are the 1914-D, 1909-S, 1909-S with the designers intials V.D.B. on the reverse, 1922-D, 1922-Plain (die error) and the 1931-S.
While the date and mintmark can easily be determined by a novice and mintages and popularity information can be found with a little research, it takes an experienced numismatist to evaluate a coin as to grade. Therefore, before you can accurately price your coins, they must be graded by a professional numismatist (coin dealer) or better yet (and for higher value coins), one of the third-party grading services such as the Numismatic Guaranty Corporation or Professional Coin Grading Service. (See the Links Page and look under Grading Services.)
For basic coin and paper money prices and to get a general idea of what you have, please see: What’s It Worth?