Keep a Penny Jar? Your Change Could Be Worth Thousands — Here’s What To Look Out For

Birds eye view of penny jar overflowing stock photo
John_Brueske /

A penny for your thoughts? More like a penny for hundreds or even thousands of dollars. Indeed, parents may want to be extra careful next time they empty out their kids’ piggy banks. They might just be holding a fortune in the form of what appears to be a mere cent. This isn’t news among seasoned collectors. A quick search on eBay for collectible pennies turns up more than 1,900 results as of Wednesday, Nov. 30.

What makes a penny worth more than its face value comes down to a few factors, including rarity, errors, the year it was manufactured and materials used. For instance, an all-copper penny is worth more than a regular penny, which is made of zinc coated with copper.

What should consumers know about pennies, and what makes them unique enough to be worth far more than a single cent? Here’s a look at six of the most expensive pennies out there and how much they go for, according to Gainesville Coins, along with a detailed description of what they look like should one be so lucky as to find one in their jar of spare change or beneath their couch covers.

The 1931-S Lincoln Cent

Some 866,000 examples of the 1931-S Lincoln Cent were minted during the height of the Great Depression, and they’re worth $65 to $100+ a pop. These pennies are a deep copper color with a bold orange hue shining through. They tout a profile of Abraham Lincoln on the head side and two leaves on the tail side that wrap around the words “One Cent” in all caps. Aside from the year, 1931, this penny doesn’t look all that different from newer coins.

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The 1909-S Indian Cent

Worth between $300 and $1,000+, the 1909-S Indian cent is a brassy dull color bordering on smoky silver chrome. It features the profile of a head in a headdress on one side. On the flip side there’s a garland-decked wreath wrapping around the words “One Cent” in all caps, beneath a crest.

The 1909-S VDB Lincoln Cent

The 1909-S VDB Lincoln Cent goes for $600 to $1,300+ and is famous among coin collectors who will instantly recognize the “VDB” lettering on the coin, which refers to the coin designer Victor David Brenner. His initials were removed the following year due to a storm of controversy. These coins, of which only 484,000 were made, look like standard Lincoln wheat pennies of their time, save for those sly and oh so small “VDB” initials.

The 1955 Doubled Die Lincoln Cent

Many coin collectors out there deem the 1955 doubled-die Lincoln cent, worth between $1,000 and $2,000+, the “Holy Grail” error coin. The error is plain to notice even for the untrained eye, so long as one looks closely. The print looks doubled or blurred on the head side.

The 1944 Steel Lincoln Cent

Now we’re getting into some very serious money. The 1944 steel Lincoln cent goes for between $75,000 and upwards of $125,000. These pennies are easy to spot because they are made of steel and have a strong silvery hue. The 1944 and 1943 steel pennies are about equal in terms of rarity.

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The 1943 Bronze Lincoln Cent

Be on the lookout for the1943 bronze Lincoln cent. It’s worth more than $125,000. This coin is special because no one knows exactly how many exist, although they likely number around 24. These bronze pennies are tricky to spot because at first they look just like an old rusty penny from the 1940s — nothing too rare. But look closely and you’ll notice the yellowish-brown sparkle and bluish luminescence that distinguish bronze from copper.

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