Both of these are long-running series that have a handful of coins considered key dates due to low mintages and high demand for those issues.
Wheat penny value
The rarest and most valuable wheat pennies are the many error and variety coins like the numerous double die issues, or coins that were never supposed to be made like the 1943, 1943-D and 1943-S copper cents issued when cents were supposed to be made of a steel with a thin layer of zinc, and the 1944 steel cent issued when the original copper composition had been restored. Each of the known examples of the three 1943 coins is worth at least a million dollars with the king of Lincoln cents being the unique 1943-D copper penny that sold in 2010 for $1.7 million.
The most popular of the double die coins is the 1955 Wheat Penny issue, which is worth $1300 in XF40, but jumps all the way to $30,000 in MS65 Brown (BN) and $125,000 in MS65 Red (RD). But the most valuable double die is the 1958 issue, which is a half million-dollar coin in the top grade of MS65 RD.
Since most collectors can’t afford these coins, the traditional key dates to the series are the 1909-S VDB, the 1914-D Lincoln Penny and the 1931-S Lincoln Penny.
The 1909-S VDB Wheat Penny, which are the initials of Victor David Brenner, the designer of the coin, has long been what experts consider the “Holy Grail” of the series. The designer placed his initials in small letters at the bottom of the wheat design reverse, but the public considered this free advertising for the artist, so the Mint removed the initials from all subsequent issues. As a unique design, this coin has always been in very high demand.
Only 484,000 were struck, which is low for a penny, and PCGS, which has graded about 20,000 coins to date, estimates that only around 60,000 examples still exist.
Unlike coins that are mostly valuable in the highest grades, it is valuable even in low circulated condition. A Good 4 BN example is worth $660, while an MS69 BN is worth $1350, and the finest example (MS67 RD) commands $65,000 with only 1 having been graded by PCGS.
The 1914-D Wheat Penny had an original mintage of 1,193,000, but unlike dates like the 1909-S VDB, which was saved to a degree from early on, this date’s scarcity only became widely known after coin folders and albums were introduced in the 1930s. By that time most examples that remained were well worn, so high-grade coins are rare.
The coin is worth $675 in XF40 BN, $11,000 in MS66BN, and the one example that grades MS66+ RD is worth an impressive $185,000, which shows how scarce examples in top grade with original color are.
About 125,000 are estimated to still exist by PCGS, and they have graded about 10,000 coins.
1931-S Wheat Penny is a key because of its low mintage of 866,000 coins. It was not widely released that year, but later examples were sold at face value and saved in quantity, which is why existing examples tend to be of high quality.
PCGS estimates that under 100,000 coins still exist, but in the 1930s there were reports that hundreds of thousands of coins remained at that time. PCGS has graded about 9,000 coins with the top grade being MS66+ RD with 8 examples graded.
Coins graded Good to XF are worth $70 to $100, while MS60 BN is worth $150, MS66 BN $650, and the 124 MS66 RD coins are worth $1800, but the 8 MS66+ RD examples jump to $6,760.
Indian Head penny values
As usual there are condition rarities and scarce variety issues, but there are three well-established keys to the Indian Head penny series based on their mintages that are the lowest for these coins. These are the 1877, 1908-S and 1909-S.
The 1877 Indian Head Penny had a mintage of 852,500 coins, which is low, but the reason this is the rarest issue of the series is that fewer examples still exist compared to other low mintage issues. This is because the coin was issued at a time when America was still suffering the effects of a major economic depression, which led many people to redeem their cents to the Mint.
Also, Q. David Bowers has said he believes the actual number minted is likely closer to 200,000. He thinks this is either because three-quarters of the mintage was destroyed, or because the mintage number included coins issued in early 1877 with 1876 dies.
PCGS has graded 6,412 of this date is all grades. Even in just Good 4 BN the coin is worth $500, while an MS60 BN is worth $4,500, jumping to $45,000 in MS66 BN and all the way to $125,000 in MS66 RD. The auction record for this issue is $149,500 for an MS66 RD sold in 2007. Only 8 exist at that grade plus one MS66+.
1908-S was the first low denomination U.S. coin struck at a branch mint. 1,115,000 of the 1908-S were originally minted, but Mr. Bowers estimates that 80,000 circulated coins exist plus 2,500 mint state pieces. PCGS has graded 6,288 in all grades with the rarest being 4 MS67 RD coins worth $52,500.
An XF40 is worth $165, MS60 BN $285 and MS65 $1100, while RD examples run $750 in MS63, $4150 in MS65 and $9,000 in MS66.
1909-S is the lowest-mintage coin of the series with 309,000 struck. It was saved because it was the last issue of the series, and Mr. Bowers estimates 25,000 circulated coins remain plus 3,500 uncirculated pieces. PCGS has graded 7,228 in all grades and estimates there are 4,800 in all grades remaining of the mintage.
In XF40 this is a $600 coin, while an MS60 BN runs $1050 and MS65 BN $2500. MS63 RD commands $1950, MS65 RD $5,000 and MS66 RD $12,500. The auction record is $97,750 for the one example that is MS67 RD, which sold in 2006.