The Wheat Penny Errors: 1922 Plain “D”

The Lincoln head cent was in circulation for almost a two decades before the U.S. Mint system minted any error coins of significant quantity. In 1922, the Denver mint struck Lincoln head cents without the usual mint mark denoting their manufacture location. The resulting pennies, named ‘Plain D” or just ‘1922-Plain’ for short, sell at auction prices of 20,000 for fine examples, and even fair copies worth hundreds. Be sure to distinguish between the normal mint issue ‘1922-D’ (showing the ‘D’ mint mark) and the error coin minted with the mint mark, as the difference in price is substantial. Follow this guide to learn about this early issue error coin, and help increase your odds of finding this very valuable penny.

The 1922 error pennies are easily distinguished from newer Lincoln cents due to their wheat head reverse. It is also slightly heavier than the modern penny, with wheat head cents being comprised of 95% copper and 5% tin, it weighs 3.11 grams. Today’s Lincoln cents are copper-plated zinc, 97.5% zinc and 2.5% copper, in order to reduce metal costs, making nickels the last non-plated U.S. coin. It weighs only 2.5 grams. The Denver Mint were given dies to stamp the traditional ‘D’ struck into each coin. However, one defective die that embossed no Mint mark was used to strike an unknown number of coins. The result is a coin, if found today in good condition, is worth up to 20,000 thousand dollars properly graded and stored.

To maximize your chances of finding this error coin follow these simple tips. First, have a consistent system to sort through your loose change. Second, start by assorting the coins by type, then when you search through the collected pennies it will be easier to distinguish the wheat head reverse. Finally, check the dates on each coin. The date should be clear enough to read, or in grading at least a rating of poor to be of interest to collectors. Beware of removed mint marks, and if buying a ‘genuine’ article you have suspicions about, take a magnifying glass and look for scratches or polish marks where the mint mark would have been. If there are no marks, then it is safe to assume the piece is genuine.

What to do with your find? So let’s say that you have found the needle in the haystack, and procured the elusive 1922 Plain D Lincoln wheat penny. What should you do? First don’t handle it anymore! Your fingers contain oil and dirt which can leave residue and induce corrosion on the coin’s surface. Also don’t keep the coin where it comes into rough contact with other coins, as coins in a bag are bound to be scratched and scuffed when the bag is moved around. With error coins like this one so rare, it is likely that even poor examples will be worth the expense of professional mounting and grading. These services are best done by nationally recognized firms like PCGS or ANACS. This will give you a lasting setting to display your treasure, and make selling and authenticating your coin much easier.


Hudgeons, Marc. The Official Blackbook, Price Guide of United States Coins. Twenty-Third Edition, Orlando, FL. The House of Collectibles, 1985.

Sunday, June 17th, 2012 Blog

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