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If you’ve come across a penny from 1939, you might be wondering if it’s valuable. Or perhaps you’re just interested in learning more about it. Either way, you’ve come to the right place!
We’re going to investigate the 1939 penny value. We’ll discover how it’s affected by the coin’s color and condition. And we’ll learn more about the penny’s design and history too.
Sound good? Then let’s get started!
1939 Wheat Penny Value Chart
|1939 (P) No Mint Mark Penny Value*||$3||$26||$165||$15,500|
|1939 D Penny Value*||$8||$30||$160||$10,500|
|1939 S Penny Value*||$6||$26||$170||$10,000|
|1939 (P) Proof Penny Value||Brown: $30Red and brown: $32
|Brown: $50Red and brown: $72
|Brown: $80Red and brown: $90
|Brown: n/aRed and brown: n/a
* Values are for coins graded red.
History of the 1939 Wheat Penny
The penny struck in 1939 is similar to the cents still being struck today. It’s a Lincoln penny, named after the former president whose portrait appears on the obverse.
The reverse, though, is different to that of the modern cent. It carries the image of two ears of durum wheat. And it’s this that gives the 1939 penny its second nickname: the Wheat penny.
Lincoln pennies were first issued in 1909. It was the first time the image of a real person had ever appeared on a US coin. Until then, the idea had been considered unseemly, smacking of monarchy.
But 1909 marked a century since the birth of Abraham Lincoln, the president who had been assassinated in 1865. As the centenary neared, public sentiment increasingly favored honoring him with a coin.
The Mint engaged an artist, Victor David Brenner, to design the new coins in January 1909. And just seven months later, the first Lincoln pennies rolled out of the coin presses.
Those first pennies were unsigned. Brenner had originally proposed signing Lincoln’s portrait, but was told this would be unacceptable. So he instead prepared a design with his initials on the reverse.
But when the first coins were released, some felt that the letters were too prominent and amounted to advertising Brenner’s work. Within days of the coins’ release, production was halted.
Making the initials smaller would have taken too much time, so instead, the dies were altered to remove them altogether.
The pennies struck in 1939, however, do have Brenner’s initials. They were reinstated in 1918, this time on the reverse of the coins. They’re tucked away in small letters at the bottom of Lincoln’s portrait.
The final Wheat pennies were issued in 1958. The following year, the design on the reverse was changed to mark 150 years since Lincoln’s birth. The ears of wheat were replaced with an image of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC.
Also read: 12 Most Valuable Lincoln Penny Worth Money
Features of the 1939 Wheat Penny
The Obverse of the 1939 Penny
The obverse of the 1939 penny looks very similar to that of the modern cent. It carries the same image of Abraham Lincoln prepared for the first Lincon cents by the Latvian artist Victor David Brenner.
Look closely at the President’s portrait, and you’ll see his initials, V.D.B., at the bottom of the shoulder. The words “IN GOD WE TRUST” sit above the image, inscribed to run parallel to the upper coin edge.
The word “LIBERTY” appears to the left of the portrait as the coin is viewed. And the date is further down on the other side.
If your 1939 penny was struck at the Mint facility at either Denver or San Francisco, there’ll be a mint mark beneath the date. Denver coins have a small “D”, while San Francisco coins have an “S”.
The Reverse of the 1939 Penny
The reverse of the 1939 penny has the same design of ears of wheat as the earliest Lincoln pennies. Like the obverse, it was the work of Victor David Brenner. It was his second proposal: the first, a tree branch, was rejected for its similarity to French coins of the same period.
The wheat ears are stylized and symmetrical, framing the coin. Between them, the denomination is inscribed in large font and forms the focal point of the design. The country name appears in smaller text below it.
At the top, curving parallel with the upper coin edge, is the Latin motto “E PLURIBUS UNUM”. This means “From the many, one”. It’s a reference to the creation of the country from individual states.
Other Features of the 1939 Penny
The 1939 penny weighs 3.11 grams and measures 19 millimeters across. It’s made of bronze – 95 per cent copper, and 5 per cent tin and zinc. And that copper content means that individual coins change color as they age and are handled.
When copper is new, it’s red. But as it’s exposed to oxygen in the air, the color changes to brown. As a result, there are a lot more brown pennies than red ones around. And it’s for that reason that color has a big influence on the value of 1939 pennies.
Coin grading agencies separate them into three color categories: red, red and brown, and brown.
For a coin to be graded red, it has to be that shade over at least 95 per cent of its total surface area. If the same proportion of the surface is brown, it’s graded brown. And anything in between is red and brown.
You can learn more about color grading Lincoln pennies in this YouTube video from Len Here.
Also read: 13 Most Valuable Wheat Penny Worth Money
1939 Wheat Penny Value Guides
1939 No Mint Mark Penny Value
If your 1939 penny was struck in Philadelphia, you can identify it by the absence of a mint mark. Look at the date – if there’s no small letter just below it, you have a Philadelphia penny.
Over 316 million were made, making them much more common than either Denver or San Francisco examples. And brown or red and brown coins wont be worth more than their face value unless there’s an interesting Mint error.
Red coins in mint condition – i.e. those that have never been circulated – are worth more. The value can range from a few dollars to thousands, depending on the condition of the coin.
That makes grading coin condition very important. Independent grading agencies, like the NGC and PCGS, grade coins on a scale from 1 to 70.
Mint state coins are graded from 60 upwards. Coins graded 65 or above are referred to as “gems”. And a coin graded 70 is considered flawless.
A red 1939 Philadelphia penny graded MS62 (the letters stand for “mint state”) will be worth around $3. And even a gem quality MS65 example can be yours for about $26.
At MS67, availability drops sharply, and prices rise as a result. While an MS66+ penny is worth around $50, a grading of half a point higher more than triples the value to $165. And at MS67+, the value is $475.
The crème de la crème of red 1939 Philadelphia pennies are six coins certified MS68 by the PCGS. Those are each valued at $15,500 – more than 50 per cent higher than the finest Denver or San Francisco examples.
1939 D Penny Value
A “D” beneath the date on your 1939 penny means it came out of the Mint facility in Denver. Over 15 million pennies were produced there that year. And today, the PCGS estimates that around 10,000 red examples still survive.
At most grades, values are similar to the Philadelphia pennies of the same mintage. Brown or red and brown coins are usually worth only a cent. And red coins in mint state can be purchased for less than ten dollars all the way up to MS62.
The major difference in value between the mint marks is seen with the finest quality coins. The PCGS has graded 65 1939 Denver pennies at MS67+, and values those at $625.
That value has fallen in recent years, but is still perhaps on the high side. A Philadelphia penny of the same quality is valued at only $475, despite fewer examples having been certified to date (56).
With the D mint mark, just as with the Philadelphia equivalents, the finest known examples to have so far come to light are graded MS68. Ten 1939 Denver pennies have been assessed at that level by the PCGS, four more than from Philadelphia.
That greater availability is reflected in their more modest (though still eye-watering) valuation of $10.500 apiece.
1939 S Penny Value
The San Francisco Mint facility produced just over 52 million pennies in 1939, identifiable by the “S” mintmark on the obverse.
Today, it’s estimated that around 14,000 red coins survive, with the same number of red and brown coins remaining.
Brown survivors, however, are thought to number more than 5 million. So without a Mint error, those will usually only be worth their face value.
Mint state coins start at around $3 or $4 for red and brown examples graded MS60 to MS62+. Red coins at the same grades are worth between $4 and $8.
Quality for red and brown coins tops out at MS67+, with a penny at that level worth around $200. The equivalent coin graded red is worth $500.
The best-in-class are two red coins certified MS68. The PCGS values those at $10,000 each.
1939 (P) Proof Penny Value
In addition to business strikes, the Philadelphia Mint facility struck some 13,520 proof pennies for collectors in 1939.
These are graded the standard three colors, but there’s also a fourth category: cameos. Cameos are coins with a pleasing contrast between frosted designs and reflective fields (the flat part of the coin).
Brown proofs can be worth good money. As they were never intended for circulation, the lowest quality you’d expect to find is PR60. A brown 1939 proof penny at that grade is worth around $30, while an example graded MS65 is worth around $80.
For red and brown proofs, the range is from $32 (PR60) to $225 (PR66).
Red coins, as ever, attract a significant premium, especially at the highest grades. A PR60 red penny is valued at $42 by the PCGS, rising to $350 at PR66+. But if you want the very best example, one of the five pennies graded PR67+, the value is $6,750.
The PCGS has so far certified only one 1939 proof penny a cameo. That’s graded PR65 and is worth around $2,650.
1939 Wheat Penny Grading
Rare 1939 Wheat Penny Errors List
1939 (P) Penny, Double Die Obverse
If there’s an error during the manufacture of a die, it will be transferred to the coins it strikes.
That’s the case with double die errors, caused by movement during the process of transferring the coin design from the hub to the die. The movement results in doubling on parts of the image. And if it happens to the obverse die, it’s known as a double die obverse.
That type of error occurred in a die used to stamp some of the 1939 Philadelphia pennies. It produced coins with doubling on the “1” and first “9” of the date, as well as on parts of Lincoln’s body.
Value depends on the coin’s color and condition. A brown example graded MS63 sold at auction in 2013 for $118, while a red and brown coin graded a point higher sold for $242 the following year.
The last record of a public sale of a red coin was for one graded MS65, also in 2014. The price then was an impressive $715.
1939 (P) Penny, Struck Off-Center
Occasionally, the planchet and die aren’t correctly aligned, resulting in a coin being struck off-center. Values for this type of error depend on how dramatic the misalignment is, as well as on the condition of the coin.
One 1939 penny struck in Philadelphia had a relatively minor error, being struck 10 per cent off-center. It was still an unusual coin, and was graded MS62 red and brown by the PCGS.
It sold at auction for $125.
This YouTube video from Couch Collectibles shows these and other errors among 1939 pennies.
Also read: 11 Most Valuable Wheat Penny Errors
How much is a 1939 penny worth?
That depends on several factors: the color of the coin, its condition, and whether it has an error. If it’s top quality, the mint mark will also affect its value.
Most 1939 pennies aren’t rare, and won’t be worth more than a cent. But a handful – those in the very finest condition – can be worth thousands. And coins with doubling or other interesting Mint errors can be worth good money too.
How do I know if my 1939 penny is valuable?
If your coin is mostly brown, it won’t be worth more than its face value unless there’s an error. If it’s red over more than 95 per cent of its surface area, it could be worth more. And if it has a bit more brown but an “S” mint mark, it could be worth a little more too.
To find an exact value, you’ll need your coin to be independently graded – but that comes at a cost. Online coin grading videos can give you a better idea of your coin’s grade, and help you decide if it’s worth getting it assessed.
Coins in poorer condition but with interesting errors can be valuable too. But it’s important to be able to distinguish the errors from later damage.
If you have a 1939 penny without a mint mark, look for signs of doubling on the “1” and “9” of the date. You’ll need a microscope or loupe for this. Coins with this error can be worth tens or even hundreds of dollars, depending on their condition.