What are Lincoln Shield Pennies Worth?
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Have you looked through a handful of change in search of something that catches your eye? If so, you may have noticed a penny with a shield on the back. They're called Lincoln Shield pennies, and have been minted each year since 2010.
What are these pennies worth? It depends on how you look at it.
The melt value of one Shield penny (meaning the value of the metals its made of, when melted down) is $.0078. By that measure, one penny is worth less than the face value.
On the other hand, an uncirculated, graded MS-65 Shield penny is worth about $0.32, on average. Proof Shield pennies, with certain mint marks, can be worth up to $16.
In this article, we'll explore how the Lincoln Shield penny came to be. Next, we'll look at what makes certain Shield pennies so valuable, and how you can tell if any of yours are worth more than just one cent.
Why do some pennies have a shield on the back?
The Lincoln Shield penny is the latest iteration of the Lincoln penny (officially called the Lincoln Cent). Since it was first introduced in 1909, several designs have been used on the reverse (back) side of the coin.
1. Wheat Penny
The first design, commonly known as a Wheat Penny, was produced from 1909 to 1958. This penny's reverse side featured two stalks of wheat. It was created by a man named Victor David Brenner, whose is most well-known for designing the Lincoln penny.
2. Lincoln Memorial Penny
In 1959, the Lincoln Memorial Penny was released. Designed by Frank Gasparro, this iteration of the penny was produced in honor of the 150th anniversary of Lincoln's birth. The design featured a depiction of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.
3. Lincoln Bicentennial Penny
To celebrate the 200th anniversary (bicentennial) of Abraham Lincoln's birth, the design of the penny's reverse side was changed again in 2009. This time, four separate designs were released to commemorate the occasion:
- The first design represents Lincoln's birth and childhood in Kentucky. It features a log cabin of the era.
- The second design depicts Lincoln's young adulthood in Indiana. It shows him as a young man taking a break from his work in rail splitting to read a book.
- The third design reflects Lincoln's professional life as a lawyer in Illinois. It features him, dressed in a suit and long coat, standing in front of the State Capitol Building in Springfield, Illinois.
- The fourth design depicts the half-completed dome at the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. It represents Lincoln's time during the Presidency.
4. Shield Penny
Most recently, the Shield Pennies were released in 2010. But how did they come to be?
How the Shield Penny Came to Be
In 2005, the
As a result of this law, an independent agency of the US federal government, the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts (CFA), met in April 2009 to discuss design concepts for the new Lincoln penny.
At first, they chose a design that featured 13 wheat bundles bound together with a ring. This symbolized U.S unity as one nation, and drew inspiration from the original Wheat Penny design by Victor Brenner. However, this design was withdrawn because it was too similar to coins issued in Germany during the 1920s.
A different US federal government group, the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee (CCAC), also met to discuss and recommend a potential design for the coin. They chose the design that ultimately became the shield penny we know today: a Union shield with a scroll indicating the coin's one-cent value.
The final shield design was created by Lyndall Bass, an artist from Santa Fe, NM. It was sculpted by Joseph Menna, an engraver and sculptor for the U.S. Mint. The design was officially unveiled in a ceremony on November 12, 2009.
In January of 2010, the coins went into production and were released into circulation in Puerto Rico. This was prompted by a coin shortage on the island.
They were then officially released on February 11, 2010, at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library in Springfield, Illinois.
The Shield Design
The concept of the shield design dates back to the 1780s, and later decorated coins and medals during the U.S. Civil War. In the mid-1800s, two-cent and five-cent coins both featured shield symbology on their reverse sides
The shield design also features prominently in frescoes painted on the walls of the U.S. Capitol Building.
The obverse (front) side of the coin remains the same as it has since 1909. It features an iconic portrait of Abraham Lincoln, our 16th president.
The reverse (back) side of the coin features a shield with 13 vertical stripes. These stripes represent the states joined in one union.
The states' unified support of the federal government is represented by the horizontal bar above the shield, which is inscribed with the national motto “E Pluribus Unum” (“out of many, one”). A banner with "one cent" is draped across the shield.
It symbolizes (as directed by the Presidential $1 Coin Act of 2005) President Lincoln's preservation of the United States as one country during the U.S. Civil War. It also reflects the sense of unity he helped to establish in healing the divisions between the North and South that led to the War.
Which shield pennies are valuable?
Most shield pennies are only worth $0.01, but some are considerably more valuable. Let's explore which ones are worth more.
In honor of the U.S. Mint's 225th anniversary, all Shield pennies struck at the Philadelphia Mint in 2017 received a "P" mint mark. This was the first time that one-cent coins have had the "P" mint mark. As a result, the 2017-P Shield penny is worth between 10 cents in uncirculated condition to $3 for a proof coin.
In February 2019, the Mint announced that its West Point branch would produce Shield pennies with a "W" mint mark. While these weren't released into circulation, they were minted for collector's sets, so there's a chance that you may encounter them in the wild.
Historically, proof coins were early samples of a coin that were minted for archival and testing purposes.
Today, they are primarily minted for collector's sets. These coins are distinguished by sharp details and a surface that is almost mirror-like in the way it's polished.
Lincoln Shield proof pennies are worth between $3 to $160, depending on condition.
Another type of Shield penny that may be valuable are error coins. These are coins that were manufactured incorrectly by the Mint. Check out this Wikipedia article for more information on errors.
How can I tell if I have any valuable shield pennies?
Whether you've found a rare date, a pristine uncirculated penny you're sure is an MS-70, or a doubled-die error coin, you need to be sure that the Shield Penny you have is a valuable one. To do so, check these:
1. Dates and Mint-Marks
First, look at the date (on the front of the coin) to see if you have one of the more valuable years: 2017 or 2019.
Next, check for a mint-mark below the date. These small letters indicate which U.S. Mint location produced the coin.
- Shield pennies are minted in Philadelphia (P), Denver (D), San Francisco (S), and West Point (W).
- Coins minted in San Francisco are exclusively Proof coins. These are specially minted for collector's sets, and distinguished by their sharp details and (usually) a mirror-like surface finish.
Coins may look pristine to the naked eye, but they're stamped by machines operated by human beings, which means that most have subtle imperfections.
With a loupe, you can carefully examine the surface of the coin for these variations in surface features. The fewer imperfections, the better the perceived condition of your coin may be.
2. Evaluate the Coin's Condition
Armed with the knowledge of which dates and mint-marks you have, you're ready to evaluate the coin's condition. Condition is evaluated on a grading scale ranging from Poor (1) to Mint State (70).
For more information on determining a coin's condition (and determining how much a coin in that condition may be worth), we recommend consulting the Red Book. It includes grade-by-grade coin values, and is the definitive guide for determining what your Shield pennies are worth.
3. Send in Valuable Coins for Grading
If you've done your research and believe you have a Shield Penny that's worth some money, the last step is to send it in for grading.
PCGS is the largest and most recognized, but they're also the most expensive. Their grading fees for modern coins (1965 to present) start at $17. And the opportunity to submit a coin requires an annual membership that varies from $69 to $249.
NGC's fees start at $18 for modern coins, while their annual membership runs between $25 to $299 per year.
Considering the cost, save grading for coins that you've concluded are worth at least as much as you'd spend to get them graded.
- If it's been in circulation (meaning you've touched it), it's not an uncirculated coin. It may still be an error coin, though.
- Check unwrapped bank rolls for uncirculated shield pennies. Using cotton gloves and a jeweler's loupe, inspect the coins to see if any are especially free of imperfections. If so, consider sending those in for grading.
About the Author
Gary Iverson is a staff writer at Metro Metal Detectors covering all things metal and metal-adjacent.