How to Tell If a Red Wheat Cent Is Real

By Kay Trillos
the basics, dates, mint marks, the condition
mass of wheat pennies image by Sean Arenas from

The wheat cent was a penny design issued by the United States from 1909 to 1958. It had the standard Abraham Lincoln bust design on the obverse and two wheat ears surrounding "One Cent United States of America" on the reverse. The wheat cent is also known as the wheat ear penny and is popular with new coin collectors because it is fairly common and most are inexpensive.

Check the year on your coin. The wheat cent was only produced between 1909 and 1958. An obvious giveaway that the coin is a forgery would be if the year stamped on the obverse did not fall within the years of production.

Check the material your coin is made from. Between 1909 and 1942, wheat cents were made from bronze, but during the metal shortages of World War II the treasury experimented with new materials. In mid-1942, they produced some wheat cents from a brass alloy. In 1943, wheat cents were made from steel coated in zinc which makes them silver in appearance, similar to a dime. From 1944 onward, the majority of wheat cents were made from a brass alloy with the exception being the "shell case cents" which were cased in copper recovered from battlefield shell casings.

Check the mint mark on your penny. The mint mark shows where the coin was minted, it is located as a small single letter on the obverse of the coin to the right of Lincoln's bust. In addition to the mint mark, early versions of the wheat cent bear the initials VDB for Victor David Brenner, the artist who designed the penny. Wheat cents minted in Philadelphia will have no mint mark, San Francisco minted coins will bear a small "S" and those minted in Denver will have a "D". The Denver mint mark should not appear on coins minted in 1909 and 1910 since the facility did not begin manufacturing wheat cents until 1911. The VDB initials appear near the mint mark in early 1909 wheat cents but they were removed entirely until 1918 when they reappeared to the left of the Lincoln bust near the rim of the coin.

Inspect to condition of your coin. "Red" is a rarely used term to describe what is more commonly known as uncirculated condition. Red is only used to refer to pennies where the unworn, full luster coins can have a beautiful red shine. Uncirculated condition is a 60 to a 70 on the Sheldon Scale of measuring coin conditions. They will have no trace of wear although some loss of luster is still allowed.

About the Author

Based in Fort Lauderdale, Kay Trillos began writing professionally in 2009. She has written for numerous websites and private customers. Before beginning her writing career Trillos worked in corporate America for five years. She has a degree in history from the University of Florida.