Penny History

The penny, one of the most ubiquitous pieces of American currency, holds a rich tapestry of history, evolving through numerous designs and compositions to become the coin we recognize today. This exploration of "Penny History" delves into the various incarnations of the penny, highlighting its significance and the changes it has undergone.

penny history

Image source: PCGS

The journey of the penny begins in 1787 with the Fugio Cent, America's first official one-cent piece. Designed by Benjamin Franklin, the Fugio Cent features the motto "Mind Your Business" on one side and "We Are One" surrounded by links representing the original 13 colonies on the other. It set the stage for the penny's long-standing role in American currency.

In 1793, the U.S. Mint introduced the Chain Cent, featuring a chain of 15 links on its reverse, symbolizing the strength and unity of the states. However, this design was short-lived due to public dissatisfaction, leading to the Wreath Cent later that same year, which offered a more favorable design.

The Matron Head design, introduced in 1816, marked another significant phase in penny history, showcasing Lady Liberty with a coronet and flowing hair. This design evolved into the Braided Hair Cent in 1839, reflecting a more mature depiction of Liberty, which remained in circulation until the advent of the Indian Head penny in 1859.


Flying Eagle Cent History

Introduced in 1856, the Flying Eagle Cent marked a significant departure from previous designs. It was the first small-sized cent produced by the U.S. Mint, a response to the need for a more economical and practical coin. The obverse featured a flying eagle, symbolizing liberty and freedom, while the reverse showcased a wreath. This design, however, had a short lifespan, minted for circulation only until 1858, due to difficulties in striking and public dissatisfaction with the design. Despite its brief tenure, the Flying Eagle Cent is a collector's favorite, appreciated for its historical significance and the boldness of its design.

Indian Head Penny Value and History

Following the Flying Eagle Cent, the Indian Head Penny was introduced in 1859. This design featured Lady Liberty wearing a Native American headdress, intended to symbolize America's westward expansion and the indigenous cultures encountered. The Indian Head Penny is revered among collectors for its beauty and the rich history it represents, including the Civil War and America's industrial age. Its value can vary widely, from a few dollars for common, circulated coins to over $2,000 for rare, high-grade examples, particularly the early years from 1859 to 1864, which were made of a copper-nickel alloy.

Large Cent History

Before the advent of the small cent, the Large Cent circulated from 1793 until 1857. These coins were significantly larger than today's pennies, made entirely of copper, and featured various designs over their lifespan, including the Chain Cent, Wreath Cent, Liberty Cap, and Braided Hair Cent. The Large Cent is a window into the early monetary system of the United States, reflecting the young nation's struggles and growth. Collectors prize these coins for their size, age, and the stories they tell about the early American economy.

Wheat Penny Value

The Wheat Penny, minted from 1909 to 1958, features Abraham Lincoln on the obverse and two wheat stalks on the reverse. The introduction of the Wheat Penny coincided with the 100th anniversary of Lincoln's birth, making it the first U.S. coin to depict a historical figure. The value of Wheat Pennies ranges from a few cents for common dates in circulated condition to thousands for rare issues and errors, like the 1909-S VDB and the 1955 double die obverse.

Two Cent Penny History

The Two Cent Penny, minted from 1864 to 1873, holds the distinction of being the first U.S. coin to bear the motto "In God We Trust." This motto was introduced during the Civil War, reflecting the nation's appeal to divine support during its darkest hours. The coin featured a shield on the obverse and a wreath on the reverse. The Two Cent Penny was short-lived, primarily due to its redundancy once the nickel was introduced, but it remains a significant piece of U.S. numismatic history for introducing the enduring motto.


At Bullion Shark, we carry every type of penny made in the United States. Every series of pennies have their own qualities, key dates, and designs that make them different from each other. Some of the pennies even hold different face values, however most of the cents have a face value of one cent. The odd one out is the Two Cent penny, you guessed it, that one has a face value of two cents! 

All of our one cent coins have attributes that make them valuable in their own right, but none of them have anything to do with their precious metal content. None of the cent coins have any silver or gold content, which makes a lot of sense because none of them had a face value over two cents. Most of the cents value comes from age and rarity. For instance, the original large cent is over 200 years old. Many collectors love holding history in their hands!

The one cent coins minted at the U.S. mint go back a long way, all the way back to 1793 when the first penny was minted. The Large cent, as you can imagine was the largest cent. Then came the Flying Eagle Penny, which was minted for a very short amount of time. After that came the Indian Head penny, that coin was loved by all during circulation and is loved by collectors today! Thereafter was the Two Cent penny, the only penny to have a face value of two cents. Finally came the Lincoln cent which is still being used today.  

The cents that we offer and the years they were minted are the following:

Large Cents: 1793-1857

Flying Eagle Penny: 1856-1858

Indian Head Penny: 1859-1909

Two Cent Penny: 1864-1873

Lincoln Penny: 1909-Present (Including the wheat penny).



What is the origin of the US penny?
The US penny, originally known as the cent, was first authorized by the Coinage Act of 1792. The first official cents were minted in 1793.
Who designed the first US penny?
The Fugio Cent, considered the first U.S. penny, was designed by Benjamin Franklin. It featured the phrases "Mind Your Business" and "We Are One."
What was the first design of the US penny?
The first design was the Chain Cent in 1793, featuring a chain of 15 links on the reverse, symbolizing the unity of the original 13 states along with Vermont and Kentucky.
When was the Lincoln penny first introduced?
The Lincoln penny was first introduced in 1909, commemorating the 100th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's birth.
Why did the US Mint create the Lincoln Wheat Penny?
The Lincoln Wheat Penny was created to honor President Abraham Lincoln, the first time a historical figure appeared on a U.S. coin, and to provide a new design for the centenary of his birth.
What are the key dates in Wheat Penny history?
Key dates include 1909-S VDB, 1914-D, 1922 without a mint mark, and 1955 double die, among others, due to their rarity or errors.
What is the significance of the 1943 steel penny?
The 1943 steel penny was minted in steel due to copper shortages during World War II, making it a unique departure from the traditional copper coin.
How has the composition of the penny changed over time?
The penny has seen various compositions, starting with pure copper, then transitioning to bronze, and during one year (1943) to zinc-coated steel. Since 1982, it has been minted mostly from zinc with a thin copper plating.
What is the rarest penny ever minted?
The 1943 copper alloy cent is among the rarest, mistakenly minted in copper when it was supposed to be struck in zinc-coated steel.
Why do some pennies have no mint mark?
Pennies without a mint mark were minted at the Philadelphia Mint, which traditionally did not place a mint mark on coins.
What are Indian Head Pennies, and why are they collected?
Indian Head Pennies were minted from 1859 to 1909 and are collected for their beautiful design featuring Lady Liberty wearing a Native American headdress, as well as for their historical value.
What does the term "Large Cent" refer to?
The term "Large Cent" refers to early American cents minted from 1793 to 1857, which were significantly larger in diameter than today's pennies.
What is a Flying Eagle Cent?
The Flying Eagle Cent was minted from 1856 to 1858 and featured a flying eagle on the obverse. It was the first small-sized cent and served as a transition between the large cents and the Indian Head cents.
How did the US penny evolve in the 20th century?
In the 20th century, the penny went from the Indian Head design to the Lincoln Wheat design in 1909, then to the Lincoln Memorial design in 1959, and finally to the Lincoln Shield design in 2010.
What are some notable error pennies?
Notable error pennies include the 1955 double die, 1943 bronze cents, and 1922 plain cents. These errors can significantly increase the coin's value among collectors.