The Lincoln penny is an iconic coin and has a very special place in the history of US numismatics. So, even though its face value is only a cent or one-hundredth of a dollar, it can still fetch prices way above that. It’s also considered a great coin for starting collectors because it’s both valuable and affordable.
What about the 1986 penny, however? Is there anything special about the mintage from that particular year? What is the value you can expect from this coin and are there any specific errors or details you might want to watch out for?
1986 Penny Value Chart
|1986 “D” Penny Value
|$0.10 to $0.33
|$0.10 to $0.33
|$3 to $16
|$55 and above
|1986 No Mint Mark Penny Value
|$0.10 to $0.33
|$0.10 to $0.33
|$5 to $20
|$125 to $600 and above
|1986 “S” Proof Penny Value
|$0.10 to $0.33
|$0.10 to $0.33
|$1 to $4
|$200 and above
As you can see, pennies are somewhat unique compared to all other coins as their collectible value is almost always many times higher than their face value, even when their quality is just decent (good). A big part of that is simply the fact that any price under $0.10 for a collectible coin is simply unsensible even if it’s a one-cent coin.
Nevertheless, a 1986 penny that’s more than just decent or fine and is above the 63-65 grades on the Sheldon coin grading scale can cost way over that – usually more than several dollars and up to $20 in some cases. Even that can still feel too little to some but $20 is really 200,000% of the penny’s face value when you think about it. And that’s still for coins that have been in wide circulation.
As with any other coin, the really valuable pennies are the ones that never made it into wide circulation and have therefore been kept in the best possible condition. Uncirculated 1986 pennies, especially from the Philadelphia Mint, can cost up to $600 and even in the thousands of dollars if they have certain rare errors or specifics.
1986 “D” Penny Value
The first of the two types of 1986 pennies that were minted in significant quantities and made it into large circulation is the 1986 “D” penny minted by the Denver Mint. Like its counterparts minted by the Philadelphia and San Francisco Mints, the Denver 1986 penny has the same design and characteristics that were put forward in 1959 for Lincoln’s 150-year memorial.
This is why 1986 pennies are also called “Memorial pennies” even though they weren’t minted on Lincoln’s anniversary – they feature the same obverse and reverse designs as those minted 27 years earlier.
In fact, the obverse of the Lincoln penny has been more or less the same ever since Lincoln’s centennial in 1909 – it’s Lincoln’s profile turned to the right with the words “In God we trust” written above, “Liberty” on the left, and the year of mintage on the right. For pennies minted in Denver, as is the case with the 1986 “D” penny, there is also a small “D” mint mark just under the year on the obverse.
This design was done by Victor David Brenner and has been in use not just until 1986 or until Lincoln’s bicentennial in 2009 – it’s still in use today.
As for the coin’s reverse – that part does see changes once every 50 years. Between 1909 and 1959, the Lincoln penny’s reverse side featured the famous wheat stalks to the sides with just the words “One Cent” and “United States of America” between them, with “E Pluribus Unum” above (“From many, one”). That original reverse side was also designed by Victor D. Brenner.
In 1959 that reverse was changed with the memorial reverse design by Frank Gasparro which features the Lincoln Memorial in the center (with Lincoln’s statue barely visible between the memorial’s pillars). Below the memorial are the words “One Cent”, above the memorial is “United States of America”, and between that line and the memorial is sandwiched the motto “E Pluribus Unum”.
That memorial design was also replaced by another “shield” design made by Lyndall Bass but that wasn’t yet the case with the 1986 penny.
So, if the design of the 1986 Denver penny is exactly the same as it had been for 27 years for the reverse and 77 years for the obverse, is there anything particularly special about it?
Well, not really. The 1986 Denver penny has the same characteristics as other Lincoln pennies that came from other Mints or from previous years – it’s 19 mm in diameter, it has a plain edge, it weighs 2.5 grams, is 1.52 mm thick, and it’s made out of copper-plated zinc. There were a total of 4,442,866,698 or about 4.5 billion of these coins minted in Denver in 1986 alone.
So, by pretty much any measurement, the 1986 “D” penny is not “unique” unless certain individual coins happen to have a rare error or a different unique identifier.
So, what does this mean about the 1986 “D” penny’s value? Not much, really – such coins can still sell for way beyond their face value if they are in a good enough condition and they have some interesting identifiers. The average price of a 1986 “D” penny will be somewhat lower than the average price of a 1986 penny with no mint mark, as we’ll discuss below, but the difference isn’t all that significant.
In fact, a 1986 penny made in Denver is actually the most expensive penny made in that year – it was an MS 69 RD (i.e. with near-perfect uncirculated quality) Memorial penny and it sold for $7,840 on eBay in December 2021.
1986 No Mint Mark Penny Value
If you find a 1986 Lincoln penny with no mint mark – which you’re quite likely to do as 4,491,395,493 of them were minted that year – you can rest assured that it isn’t a penny with a manufacturing error, it was just made by the Philadelphia Mint.
It was the tradition of that mint to make their coins with no mint marks for decades before they eventually started adding a “P” mint mark in the 1980s. The 1986 Philadelphia penny doesn’t have such a mark, however, as they hadn’t moved to their “P” mint mark with their pennies yet.
Aside from this key difference, is there anything particularly special about the Philadelphia 1986 penny compared to those made in Denver? Not really – the designs of the obverse and the reverse are the same as are all other parameters of the coin. There isn’t a dramatic difference in quality between 1986 pennies made in Denver and in Philadelphia either.
All this makes it a tad peculiar that 1986 no-mint cents are generally sold for more than those with the “D” mint mark, at least when both are above a certain quality grade. For coins below the MS 65 mark, the prices between the “D” mint mark and the no mint mark are more or less the same – from $0.10 up to a dollar at most.
Once we start going above the 65-grade mark, 1986 pennies with no mint marks start outpacing those with the “D” mint mark by some 20% or more. For example, in the highest quality grades, a 1986 “D” penny usually sells for an average of $55 whereas the average for no-mint 1986 pennies fluctuates between $125 and $600.
All this doesn’t take into account the particularly rare and special coins that aren’t just of a high-quality grade but also have certain unique and one-of-a-kind errors – those can often sell for thousands of dollars whether or not they have a mint mark. In the case of the no-mark Philly 1986 pennies, the highest-sold coin so far is an MS 68 penny that sold for $2,400 on eBay in 2019.
1986 “S” Proof Penny Value
The third variant of the 1986 one-cent coin we need to talk about is the proof penny made by the San Francisco Mint. As a proof coin, these pennies weren’t made to be circulated widely as currency. Instead, they exist, at least in principle, to “proof” other pennies against fakes and counterfeits.
In practice, however, these and other proof coins are generally minted for their collectors’ value. That’s because proof coins are minted with much higher quality and detail and look much better than regular coins, even if the latter have been left uncirculated.
So, the US Mint usually mints a sizable quantity of proof coins to sell to collectors at increased prices and make a profit, despite the fact that the production of proof coins is more expensive than that of regular coins.
With all that out of the way, it’s interesting to note that the 1986 “S” proof penny made by the San Francisco Mint doesn’t actually sell for more than the “D” and no-mint-mark pennies, at least not by today’s prices.
The total number of proof pennies minted in San Francisco in 1986 was 3,010,497 which is pretty standard for such coins and for that period. They have the “S” mint mark under the year on the obverse side of the coin, also as expected, even though some San Francisco-made proof coins from other years don’t have mint marks similar to coins made in Philadelphia.
So, why is the 1986 “S” proof penny worth less than regular pennies? It is peculiar, given that the “S” proof pennies are indeed of great visual quality – collectors just don’t value them highly unless they have some extraordinarily interesting manufacturing error on them.
1986 Penny Grading
Grading pennies is done the same way as you’d grade any other coin – first, you need to assess the quality and preservation of the coin using one of the standard coin grading scales, and then, you’d want to look for certain rare manufacturing errors and specifics that might make the coin more valuable to collectors. The video above shows a good example of 1986 penny grading.
Lists of 1986 Penny Errors
Identifying an error in a 1986 penny is a great boon as it means the difference between having one regular cent in your pocket and having several, dozens, or potentially even hundreds or thousands of dollars worth of a penny. Here’s a good video on errors in 1986 pennies as well as the three main examples you’d want to watch out for below:
1986 Penny Double Die Error
The double die error is something you can see in many coins and the 1986 penny is no exception. This error happens when there is even the slightest shift in the minting die in between striking a single coin. When this happens, a part of – or the whole of – the coin’s design can seem a bit blurred or distorted.
The most common parts of the coin where you can notice this error are in Lincoln’s eye, his bowtie, or the dates and inscriptions on the coin. On the reverse side, this error can also be noticed in the columns of Lincoln’s Memorial.
1986 Penny Off-Center Error
The off-center error is also quite common in many coins – it happens when the dies have been a bit misaligned while minting and haven’t printed Lincoln’s face or his memorial in the exact center of the coin’s planchet as they should have.
1986 Penny BIE Error
When the Mint has been using a worn-out or cracked die, a BIE error can occur in the form of small cracks on the coin’s design. In the case of most Lincoln pennies that have this error, the crack is noticeable on the word “Liberty” on the coin’s obverse side.
1986 Penny FAQ
How do you know if you have a rare 1986 penny?
1986 pennies aren’t exactly rare, so, pinpointing the valuable ones isn’t all that difficult – if they have been uncirculated (i.e. they have a pristine visual quality and they weren’t given to you by a store clerk) and they have a specific minting error, they may be worth something more than a few cents.
What is the most pricey 1986 Lincoln penny?
An MS 69 RD uncirculated penny with the “D” mint mark was sold for $7,840 on eBay in December 2021 and is the most pricey 1986 Lincoln penny as of the time of writing this.