In the world of coin collections, many terms have been created to express the variations and rarity of certain types of coins. The term Key Date refers to a particular date in a series of coins that is more rare than other coins belonging to the same series. This may refer simply to the date, or to the date and the mint mark–which is the first letter of the city where the coin was minted. Even just a small difference or slight variation in a coin of a particular series may make a large difference in the value of a particular coin.
Because collecting coins involves such a wide array of subjects, many collectors want to compile pieces within a certain series of coin that they prefer. There are times when some of the specific coins within a series are more difficult to obtain because of various factors. This makes them Key Date coins. Some of the distinguishing elements which make a coin more rare to find in mint condition include poor striking of a certain year, lower mintages, variations of metals within the same grouping, or dates which may have been worn severely without many collectors to protect those coins. The more uncommon a particular year in a series, the more valuable it is.
As for coins with Key Dates, Wheat Pennies circulated in the United States are no exception. All of the pennies with the wheat symbol were minted from 1909 until 1958. These US pennies may also be known as the wheat back penny or the Lincoln Wheat Cent. These pennies were produced beginning in 1909 to honor the anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s 100th birthday. This was the first coin minted in the United States that contained the representation of a real person’s image.
One Key Date Wheat Penny is from this era is the 1909-S. It contains the uncommon marking of the letters V.D.B between the stems of the wheat at the bottom of the back side of the penny. This marking was a tribute to Victor David Brenner, the artist whose work was responsible for the base design of the Lincoln head penny. This design is a significant recognizable symbol for the United States, however most Americans do not know who created it. Brenner was commissioned by Theodore Roosevelt following an artist’s sitting with him.
A 1922 Wheat Penny is rare because it doesn’t contain the mint mark set with the date, rendering it a Key Date piece. It was standard at the time for a lowercase letter to sit below the date to indicate the mint from which it came. These 1922 pennies struck in Denver are missing this information and therefore are considered rare among US Penny collectors. Now a capital letter representing the mint location is stamped to the right of the date.
Some of the most uncommon and most valuable US coins ever sold are the 1943 US Wheat Pennies which were erroneously minted on bronze planchets instead of the steel blanks of that year. Because of World War II, the United States had decided that the 1943 pennies would be minted on zinc plated steel in order to save the precious copper for ammunition use for the war. A handful of pennies, however, were mistakenly minted on leftover copper planchets from 1942, making them very rare and valuable today. These pennies have sold for up to $1.7 million and are now part of Robert Simpson’s collection of three “Copper Lincolns,” one from each mint in production during during 1943.
A List of Key Date Wheat Pennies:
1922 (No D)
1955/55 Double Die
A double die coin is considered a Key Date coin. Double die coins are unique because there was a mistake in the die hubbing process which caused a shadow or another full imprint of an image. In the case of the 1955 Wheat Pennies, the numeral fives were noticeably struck with a double die. Other US Lincoln pennies with this same issue are from the years 1972 and 1995, though these are not wheat pennies they are still Key Dates from their particular series.
If you happen to find a Wheat Penny in your possession, it would be worth checking the date against the list before spending it. If you find a 1943 or 1944 Wheat Penny, using a magnet to check its metal content is easy. Steel will stick to the magnet, but copper will not. The value of those particular coins are almost priceless. If your coin does turn out to be a Key Date penny, it could be valuable and is definitely worth taking to a local coin shop to have it viewed by a professional.
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