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1938 Wheat Penny Value: Varieties & Errors 

Are you interested in adding the 1938 Wheat Penny to your coin collection but are wondering if it is worth it? You’ve come to the right place for answers.

Finding a 1938 Wheat penny is relatively easy. This is because over 150 million pieces of this coin were produced, and it is also very affordable. An average regular strike Lincoln cent is worth $0.23, but Mint State grades would cost you at least $3.25 – $4.

Meanwhile, the auction record is way higher at $14,400 for a PR67 cam variant in 2020.

Keep reading to learn more about the 1938 Wheat Penny, including identification, varieties, value, and errors.

What is the Background of the 1938 Wheat Penny?

1938 Penny

When Victor David Brenner took over as the lead designer and engraver of the USA coin in 1909, he introduced the Lincoln/Wheat penny.

Brenner chose the image of former president Abraham Lincoln as a tribute for his 100th-year birthday and acknowledgment of the historical move to abolish slavery. The Lincoln/Wheat pennies lasted until 1958 when the new Lincoln penny phased them out.

With over 156 million regular strikes “no mint mark” 1938 pennies in circulation, this coin is one of the most accessible and cheapest to collect. It is worth knowing, however, that there are rarer varieties with higher price points, like the Proof CAM 1938 wheat pennies.

The 1938 Wheat Penny Features

  • Series: Wheat / Lincoln
  • Year of Make: 1938
  • Mintage: 192,374,934
  • Mint Branch: Philadelphia, San Francisco, Denver
  • Composition: 95% Copper, 5% Tin & Zinc (Bronze)
  • Weight: 3.11g
  • Diameter: 19 mm
  • Edge: Plain

What Does the 1938 Lincoln (Wheat) Penny Look Like?

On the face (obverse) of the 1938 penny, there’s a side profile engraving of ex-President Abe Lincoln facing right. The drawing stops at his upper body, showing his suit jacket and necktie.

1938 Penny Obverse

Lincoln’s head in this engraving has a full head of cropped curly hair leading to a trimmed beard. Other details on the obverse include:

  • IN GOD WE TRUST: The curve above his head has an engraving of “IN GOD WE TRUST.”
  • LIBERTY: Behind Lincoln’s head, by the nape of his neck, you’ll see “LIBERTY.
  • 1938: In front of his tie slightly below the tie’s knot and “LIBERTY” on the other end, the mint year, “1938”.
  • Mint Mark: “D” for Denver, “S” for San Francisco placed under the 1938 between “9” and “3”.

Meanwhile, the reverse has the following details, including two wheat stalks:

1938 Penny Reverse

  • E PLURIBUS UNUM: At the center of the upper curve, you’ll see “E.PLURIBUS.UNUM.”
  • ONE CENT: Beneath E PLURIBUS UNUM, there’s a bolder font spelling out “ONE” over “CENT.”
  • UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Undear “CENT,” you’ll see a medium font “UNITED STATES” over “OF AMERICA.”
  • Two Wheat Stalks: Single wheat stalks enclose the “ONE CENT” and “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA” engravings on both sides. The left stalk stops by “E” and the right one by “M” of “E PLURIBUS UNUM.”

But the stems leave a small space in the center because they don’t touch.

What are the 1938 Wheat Penny Varieties?

This table will show you four varieties of 1938 Wheat (Lincoln) Pennies, but overall they’re two. These are the Regular Strike and Proof Strike.

1938 (Lincoln Wheat) Varieties Mint Location Mintage
1938 (Regular Strike) Philadelphia 156,682,000
1938-D Denver 20,010,000
1938-S San Francisco 15,180,000
1938 (Proof) Philadelphia 14,734

What’s the Current Value of the 1938 Wheat Penny?

According to the USA Coin Book, you can buy a regular strike Wheat Penny for less than a dollar. But as a collector looking for the best, you’ll need at least $6 for a Mint State 60 grade.

The RD and RB shades are worth hundreds to thousands of dollars in Mint State 67+ grade.

CAM Proof 1938 Lincoln pennies are the most valuable variant because they’re few and have the highest aesthetic quality. That makes them rare and in high demand.

Unlike the regular strike 1938 Lincoln pennies, the cheapest Proof variant in PR60 grade is worth at least $18.

See this table for a comprehensive view of the current market value for all 1938 Wheat cent variants in grades 60 – 68.

1938 Wheat Penny Grades 1938 Wheat Penny (Regular Strike MS) 1938 Wheat Penny (Proof) 1938-D Wheat Penny (Regular Strike MS) 1938-S Wheat Penny (Regular Strike MS)
60 $7 $18 – $50 $6 $8
61 $8 $22 – $60 $7 $8
62 $9 – $10 $45 – $70 $8 – $9 $11 – $12
63 $12 – $13 $65 – $340 $12 – $15 $15 – $18
64 $16 – $20 $110 – $650 $20 – $22 $26 – $28
65 $32 – $35 $135 – $1,050 $25 – $30 $30 – $36
66 $40 – $80 $225 – $3,750 $44 – $55 $50 – $70
67 $175 – $750 $1,300 – $27,500 $325 – $650 $325 – $1,000
68 $15,500 N/A $11,500 N/A

1938 (No Mint Mark) Wheat Penny Regular Strike

1938 No Mint Mark Penny

The auction record for this coin is $6,325 for an MS68 grade; this shows that it isn’t lucrative in today’s market. That’s also because of its availability, which keeps the price point between a few hundred to less than $2,000.

This year, an MS67+ regular strike 1938 Wheat penny in red sold for $1,200. It was only a few hundred shy of the auction record. In 2015, there was a sale of $823 by Stack’s Bowers and $705 in 2016 by Heritage Auctions.

Grade Highest Price & Sale Date Firm
MS67+ $1,528 (2015) Heritage Auctions
MS67+ RD $1,200 (2023) Heritage Auctions
MS67+ $1,175 (2015) Heritage Auctions
MS67+ RD $900 (2022) Heritage Auctions
MS67+ RD $840 (2017) Heritage Auctions

1938-D Wheat Penny (Regular Strike)

1938 D Penny

Look out for the red 1938-D Wheat pennies if you want to make a big bank on this variant. They’re the most valuable of all three colors, especially in MS 67+. That means the coin still has all its details and original luster.

In 2007, Heritage Auctions sold an MS68 1938-D coin for $4,313. In 2017, Heritage Auctions sold an MS67+ grade for $940. The prices have been low this year, between $100 to $384.

Grade Highest Price & Sale Date Firm
MS67+ RD $2,880 (2022) Heritage Auctions
MS67+ RD $2,233 (2016) Goldberg Auctioneers
MS67+ RD $2,115 (2015) Heritage Auctions
MS67+ RD $1,351 (2017) Heritage Auctions
MS67+ RD $1,293 (2016) Heritage Auctions

1938-S Wheat Penny (Regular Strike)

1938 S Penny

You’ll notice that the 1938-S wheat penny is the least valuable of all the varieties because of its low price points. The highest sale it achieved was in 2014, and it barely crossed the $2,000 mark.

More recent sales are lower than $1,000, showing it no longer in high demand. This year, sales have been between $100 to $300. Heritage Auctions sold MS67+ red 1938-D Wheat Pennies in July for $348 and $336.

In February, an MS66 RD piece went for $70 at David Lawrence RC.

As a collector, ensure the grade is at least MS67 or higher before shelling out $1,000 or more to own one.

Grade Highest Price & Sale Date Firm
MS67 $2,115 (2014) Heritage Auctions
MS67+ RD $1,920 (2021) Stack’s Bowers
MS67+ RD $1,998 (2015) Heritage Auctions
MS67+ RD $1,528 (2016) Heritage Auctions
MS67+ RD $1,080 (2019) Heritage Auctions

1938 Wheat Penny (Proof Strike)

1938 Proof Penny

Recently, buying a Proof graded 67 – 68 or CAM 1938 Wheat Penny costs at least $1,000. Heritage Auctions and David Lawrence sold pieces for $1,110 in the last three years—$ 1,200, $1,300, $1,611, $2,040, $2,880, and $3,055.

The price can also rise to $3,000 or more. In 2016, Legend Rare Coin Auctions sold a PR67+ RD for $3,878. Other high prices include $3,840 in 2022 and $3,995 in 2018.

Recently, a Proof CAM 1938 Wheat Penny graded 66 sold for $1,125. See more prices below:

Grade Highest Price & Sale Date Firm
PR67 CAM $14,400 (2020) Stack’s Bowers
PR67 CAM $11,750 (2016) Heritage Auctions
PR67 CAM $9,600 (2019) Heritage Auctions
PR67+ CAM $6,300 (2020) Heritage Auctions
PR67+ RD $4,700 (2016) Heritage Auctions

Common Errors You’ll Find in a Wheat Penny

Machines and humans are prone to mistakes, so some coins were imperfect during production. The error could be with the strike mechanism, die feeder, or planchet.

Don’t be quick to discard your coins when they show signs of error; they’re rare pieces that could earn you money. Common errors you’ll find in a Wheat (Lincoln) Cent include:

  • Broadstruck Error
  • Double Strike Error
  • Off-Center Strike Error
  • Double Die Error

Broadstruck Error

1938 Penny Broadstruck Error

When the retaining collar slacks, the planchet moves out of place, causing the strike to hit outside the defined spot. You’d then get a broadstrike that engraves the details wider than the coin’s standard diameter.

  • In 2008, a broadstruck 1938 Lincoln cent in grade MS60 sold for $13.

Double Strike Error

1938 Penny Double Strike Error

If the coin gets stuck in the machine during production instead of getting ejected after the required strike, there’ll be a second one. That leads to duplicate images and details on the coin.

Often, the coin gets partially ejected, meaning a part remains in the machine to receive the second strike. When that happens, it’s called an “off-center double strike.”

  • In 2021, a 75 off-center double strike error 1938 RB in MS63 grade sold for $348.

Off-Center Strike Error

1938 Penny Off-Center Strike Error

The images on the coin’s obverse and reverse should appear in the center. But sometimes, the collar holding the coin in place for the strike shifts. That makes the strike hit “off-center,” leading to empty fields (backgrounds).

The off-center strike can be as little as 5% or as wide as 80%.

  • In 2019, Heritage Auctions sold a 50% off-center strike 1938 BN Lincoln cent in MS64 grade for $216.
  • Last year (2022), an MS62 1938 Lincoln Cent in brown hue with a 20% off-center strike went for $117.

Double Die Error

1938 Penny Double Die Error

When a coin die isn’t correctly manufactured, it appears faint on the first application. It’ll then need a second application to show defined details, leading to duplicate images and engravings.

This error on the face is called DDO (Double Die Obverse) and DDR (Double Die Reverse) for the back.

  • Heritage Auctions sold a DDR 1938-S Wheat penny in color red and graded MS65 for $89.
  • A lesser grade of MS63 DDR 1938-D RB Wheat Cent sold for less than $21 in 2006.

Final Thoughts

The 1938 Lincoln Penny isn’t the most valuable in the series, but it’s worth a shot if you start as a new collector.

You can start small by targeting the MS60 – MS63 regular strike coins and build up to the PR60 1938 Wheat Pennies before aiming for the MS67 and PR67+ pieces. Collecting 1938 cents with errors is also more valuable since their value is more likely to increase.

Before buying or selling, always ensure you evaluate your 1938 Wheat penny with a reputable firm.

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