A Wheat Penny For Your Thoughts


Lincoln pennies from 1909-1958

The other day at the bank, I was given four pennies back in change. All four were wheat pennies, which means that they were dated before 1959 when the Lincoln Memorial replaced wheat stalks on the back of the U.S. penny.


Lincoln pennies from 1959-current

For you non-numismatists, finding a wheat penny in circulation is extraordinarily rare. For me, it was instant nostalgia. I was an avid coin collector as a kid and kept a box of dixie cups under my bed. The cups were labeled 1945-D, 1945-S, 1946, 1946-D, 1946-S and so on. Whenever I found a wheat penny, I’d toss it in the appropriate cup; I’d make a roll of that particular date when I had accumulated fifty of the little guys. I tracked the quantity of each date by roll and cup on a computer at school, which spit out my wheat penny inventory on large green-and-white barred paper. I was one organized nerd!


Wheat pennies weren’t all I found in circulation. The U.S. mint stopped making silver coins after 1964 but you could still find a wealth of collectible coins in your dad’s pocket change—Buffalo nickels, Franklin half dollars, Mercury dimes and even an Indian Head penny, Standing Liberty quarter, Liberty Head V-nickel, Walking Liberty half dollar, Peace or Morgan silver dollar or Barber dime now and again. I feel sorry for kids today who will never see such treasures except in specialty coin shops.


Even though wheat pennies have all but vanished from circulation, only the very best dates are really worth anything. Still, getting those four pennies back in change instantly rocketed me back to my youth. And it occurred to me that if all four pennies I received were wheat pennies, I bet there were more where those came from. At my request, the teller happily went through her supply of pennies and found fourteen more, including three steel pennies from 1943. I scooped them all up, of course!


I routinely sorted through hundreds of coins as a kid but now have to squint to read the dates. So I walked out to the parking lot, sat in my car, pulled out the little pocket magnifier I keep in my planner and examined my eighteen little friends. I was astonished to find dates like 1914, 1917, 1919 and 1925-D. I imagined some kid breaking into his dad’s penny collection to buy some candy and baseball cards.


Although my find was almost unheard of, none of the pennies were actually worth much. A coin dealer wouldn’t even pay fifty cents for any of them. Still, it made my day and brought back a wealth of good memories. I suspect that anyone who collected coins as a youth can relate to my little trip down Penny Lane.

whitman-lincoln-penny-folder-coverWhen my daughter Erin was seven, I eagerly introduced her to coin collecting. Her interest in it didn’t last long but for a short time we collected pennies together. One day, we spent an hour or so pressing pennies into her blue Whitman coin folders, the brand which continues to be the industry standard. When we finished, I folded up the books. Erin, who was already keenly aware of social justice, glanced at the front of a blue book and exclaimed in disgust, “White man coin folder? They can be for black people, too!” With a smile, I pointed out that the word was Whitman, not White man. We still laugh about that today!


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4 Responses to “A Wheat Penny For Your Thoughts”

  1. sharon Says:

    wow phil i didnt know there was a wheat penny maybe i am young well 35 is kind of old ,yeah i am getting old

  2. Phil Bolsta Says:

    Yep, anytime before the late 1960s was the golden age for coin collecting. Sorry you missed it, Sharon!

  3. Your seester Says:

    Fun column, Philip. What’s a Barber dime? Change from Cliff?
    (He’s the guy who cut our hair when we were kids.)

  4. Phil Bolsta Says:

    Good one, Noncat!

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