Pennies from the 1800s That Are Worth a Ton of Money Today

By: Lauren | Published: Jan 03, 2024

Old and specifically rare coins have always been considered valuable to collectors, but some of these coins can fetch a far higher price point than others.

Many people don’t know there are some pennies from the 19th century that are now worth tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars. So, let’s find out which are the six most valuable US pennies from the 1800s.

The History of the Penny

Before diving into the most valuable pennies in the US, it’s first important to understand the history of these coins and the US Mint itself.

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Stereoscopic image showing a row of coin presses attended by two operators at the Philadelphia Mint building on Spring Garden Street in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, circa 1915

Source: Graphic House/Archive Photos/Getty Images

The first US Mint opened on April 2, 1792, in Philadelphia. Just one year later, in 1793, the very first penny was made. However, the first variation was too large, and Americans found it hard to handle.

The Penny as it’s Known Today

It took quite a long time for the Mint workers to figure out the best size and shape of the 1-cent coin.

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A worker uses a machine to separate coin blanks at the U.S. Mint

Source: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

In fact, it wasn’t until 1857 that the first penny was made that looks somewhat like the one in circulation today. However, there were still several variations used over the next 165 or so years.

The First Small Penny: 1856 1C Flying Eagle

While the first small penny was released for public use in 1857, a couple hundred were made in 1856 to make sure they were just right.

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Front and back of 1856 1C Flying Eagle

Source: eBay

So, it should come as no surprise that one of the pennies from this tiny batch is now incredibly valuable. Collectors today will pay anywhere from $8,000 to $25,000, depending on the quality, but one sold at auction for a whopping $172,500.

The 1864 1C RD with an “L” on the Ribbon

On a mint condition penny from 1864, one can see a small “L” on the ribbon. It’s almost impossible for a layperson to see, but coin collectors love this unique mark.

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Front and back 1864 1C, L Ribbon, RD

Source: eBay

Therefore, the 1864 1C L on Ribbon, RD, as it is called in the world of coin collecting, could earn its owner anywhere between $68 and $519, or even up to $35,000 if it’s absolutely perfect.

Indian Head Penny 1871 1C, RD

From 1859 to 1909, the majority of the pennies made either showed an eagle or an Indian head, and those made in 1871 are considered special, as they have what collectors call a “Shield Reverse.”

Front and back of 1871 1C, RD

Source: eBay

The most an 1871 1C RD has ever got at an auction was an amazing $60,375, but those that aren’t in mint condition usually go for between $60 and $875.

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Indian Head 1872 1C, RD

What’s interesting about the 1872 Indian Head penny is that it doesn’t have a mint mark. And, of course, when it comes to coins, anything different from other variations will always mean more money.

Front and back of a 1872 1C, RD and its case

Source: eBay

The Indian Head 1-cent coins from 1872 usually sell for around $80, but if they are in great condition, it could be more like $1,350. In fact, one once sold for $126,500.

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Thicker “3”: 1873 1C Closed 3, RD

The “Closed 3” of the 1873 Indian Head signifies that the number 3 within the date is thicker than previous styles, making the 3 look more like an 8.

Front and back of a 1873 1C Closed 3, RD

Source: eBay

Again, this small change to the norm means collectors will jump at an 1873 1C Closed, RD. In mint condition, they sell for as much as $10,000, but if they’re rusted and faded, it will be around $20.

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The Rare and Coveted 1888/7 1C, RB

Apparently, the mint made too many 1887 pennies, so when 1888 rolled around, some of them were reused. Instead of reforging them, they simply printed the 8 over the 7, hence the name the 1888/7 1C.

Front and back of a 1888/7 1C, RB

Source: eBay

Because very few of the 8-over-7 pennies were made, they are quite valuable today. The highest one ever made at auction was $72,000.

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Indian Head Pennies Are Generally Worth Something

While these are technically the 6 most valuable variations of the US 1-cent coins from the 1800s, it’s important to note that most Indian Head pennies from that time are worth quite a bit more than a penny.

Pile of US Indian Head pennies from the 1800s

Source: eBay

In just “good” condition, they can fetch anywhere from $2 to $130. In “fine” condition, between $5 and $1,550. If they were never circulated, anywhere from $25 to $3,000. And that’s just the starting price; at auctions, things can change.

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Coin Collectors Go Crazy at Auctions

Realistically, most of these coins, if they are in good or great condition, could be worth in the tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars. It’s all about finding the right buyer.

A selection of American coins, including an 1822 Half Eagle, or Five Dollar Gold Piece, and an 1804 silver dollar, both estimated to be worth between $8 and $10 million

Source: Rob Stothard/Getty Images

Coin collectors shop mostly at auctions because there, they can be sure they are getting a genuine and well-cared-for coin. And at these auctions, coins for sale for just a few thousand can make much more if a bidding war ensues.

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Take Care of Your Pennies

If you have found an old penny in your attic, it’s crucial to keep it in the best possible condition if you ever want to sell it for more than $100.

A Sotheby's employee holds an American 1794 silver dollar, estimated to be worth between $3 and $5 million

Source: Rob Stothard/Getty Images

And if it’s one of the pennies listed above, run, don’t walk to a local coin collector to get it cleaned, boxed, and appraised. You may be holding a small fortune.

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