Coin Value Finder » 1981 Penny Value: are “D”, “S”, No mint mark worth money?

1981 Penny Value: are “D”, “S”, No mint mark worth money?

The Lincoln penny is one of the most recognized coin series in the world. With a beautiful depiction of the 16th US President Abraham Lincoln, these coins have a rich history dating back to 1909.

The 1981 variation marked a monumental change in how the US penny was designed and minted, as the composition of coins changed dramatically afterward. As such, the 1981 series marks a valuable period in which collectors search for particular variations and unique properties to issued coins.

So what could your 1981 coin be worth? This article will explore everything you need to know about evaluating your penny and can help determine if your small pocket change is worth a small fortune!

1981 Penny Details

1981 Penny Details

  • Category: Lincoln Penny
  • Mints: Philadelphia, Denver, San Francisco
  • Total Mintage: Over7,491,750,000
  • Obverse designer: Victor David Brenner
  • Reverse designer: Frank Gasparro
  • Edge: Plain
  • Diameter: 19 mm
  • Thickness: 52 mm
  • Composition: Copper (95%), Zinc (5%) 
  • Weight: 11 grams
  • Face Value: $0.01

The 1981 penny had several details that were classic features of coins in that period. Firstly, it is part of the Lincoln Penny series, originating as far back as 1909.

On the obverse side, the coin features an iconic portrait of 16th US president Abraham Lincoln by Victor David Brenner. This image has been a consistent feature of coins in this category since its earliest iteration.

The 1981 reverse side features the Lincoln memorial building by Frank Gasparo, which had only been a feature of Lincoln pennies since 1959 when it replaced the previous wheat design.

The most significant feature of the 1981 penny is not exactly how it looks – but how it was made. As the last coin made primarily out of copper, it weighs 3.11 grams. This meant the currency was quite heavy by today’s standards. For example, when production changed to zinc in 1982, coins became much lighter at just 2.50 grams.  

The 1981 penny coin was minted in three locations across America, including Denver, San Francisco, and Philadelphia. Coins produced in Denver and San Francisco have a signature maker’s mark, the letters D and S, respectively, while Philadelphia coins will have no such marks.

A unique feature of all pennies and nickels is their edging. The 1981 penny has a plain edge, meaning no lettering, decorations, or grooves are molded into it. Coins were made to be smooth and consistent, often minted with a collar to guarantee a perfect, circular shape.

That said, sometimes the shape grew irregular, and coins with mistakes were pressed and sent into circulation. These “errors” are rare in coin collecting and add considerable value at auction.

Today, the ordinary 1981 penny has a face value almost equivalent to its value in the 80s, at just 1 or 2 cents. But as collectors will have taught you, certain kinds of coins transform these very minute coins into tiny treasures.

Also Read: Top 20 Most Valuable Old Pennies Worth Money (Penny Collection)

Value chart

1981 Penny Value Chart
Mint Mark Good Fine Extremely Fine Uncirculated
1981 No Mint Mark Penny $0.01 $0.01 $0.01 $1.16
1981 D Penny $0.01 $0.01 $0.01 $3
1981 S Penny Proof – Type 1 $0.01 $0.01 $0.01 $18
1981 S Penny Proof – Type 2 $0.01 $0.01 $0.01 $56

Because of their high volume and circulation, a 1981 penny of Good or Fine quality generally will be only 1-2c. Pristine, mint and uncirculated coins will fetch a much higher premium and are often the only coins in demand.

Below is an essential guide to the four most common value categories:

  • Good is when the coin’s design is outlined but missing key details. There may be signs of wear and tear
  • Fine – this is when coins have few visible details, some of which may be worn away.
  • Extremely fine – the coin has only light wear over high points. There may be signs of mint luster (sheen).
  • Uncirculated means that the coin presumably never went into public circulation and is in extremely good, if not pristine, condition. There are only trace amounts of use, with medium to full luster. 

1981 Penny Value and Varieties Guides

Below are four variations of 1981 pennies commonly found in the marketplace today.

1981 No Mint Penny value

1981 No Mint Penny

  • Type: Lincoln Penny
  • Edge: Plain
  • Mint mark: No mint mark
  • Place of minting: Philadelphia
  • Year of minting: 1981
  • Face value: $0.01
  • $ Price: $0.02 – $1.16
  • Quantity produced: Over 7,491,750,000
  • Designer: Victor David Brenner & Frank Gasparro
  • Composition: Copper (95%), Zinc (5%) 
  • Mass: 11 grams

The first version of the 1981 penny coin is one with no mint mark, i.e., no letters on the obverse side. This tells us that the coin’s origin is in Philadelphia.

Because over 7,491,750,000 coins were minted that year, these kinds of coins are still in circulation today. Unfortunately, that means the coin has minimal value, often selling based on the melt value of copper, at $0.02.

Your penny can be worth much more if in uncirculated condition, selling for a higher rate of between $0.35 to $1.16 per penny. In rare instances, near-perfect coins can sell for a small fortune; a 1981 no-mint penny sold for an incredible $1,057 back in 2016.

1981 D Penny value

1981 D Penny

  • Type: Lincoln Penny
  • Edge: Plain
  • Mint mark: Letter ‘D’
  • Place of minting: Denver
  • Year of minting: 1981
  • Face value: $0.02
  • $ Price: $0.02 – $3
  • Quantity produced: Over 5,373,235,000
  • Designer: Victor David Brenner & Frank Gasparro
  • Composition: Copper (95%), Zinc (5%) 
  • Mass: 11 grams

The 1981 D penny has a signature ‘D’ letter molded into it, meaning that the coin was created in Denver. Estimates say that over 5,373,235,000 pennies were minted that year, meaning it can be pretty common to find them at auctions and websites and in circulation today.

For this reason, 1981 D mint coins are only worth between 1c – 2c at face value. An uncirculated 1981 D penny usually fetches $1 to $3 at auction. That said, because of their link to Denver, certain collectors local to the area may pay a higher price to own these coins.

1981 S Penny – Type 1

1981 S Penny – Type 1

  • Type: Lincoln Penny
  • Edge: Plain
  • Mint mark: A filled letter ‘S’
  • Place of minting: San Francisco
  • Year of minting: 1981
  • Face value: $0.02
  • $ Price: $02 – $12
  • Quantity produced: 3,165,026 Overall
  • Designer: Victor David Brenner & Frank Gasparro
  • Composition: Copper (95%), Zinc (5%) 
  • Mass: 11 grams

If your 1981 penny has the letter ‘S,’ it was minted in San Francisco. These are arguably the more valuable type of 1981 penny, mainly because two slightly different variations exist; type 1 and type 2.

You will only be able to tell their difference on closer inspection. With Type 1, the S letter will be filled-in, appearing bolder and thicker than its counterpart.

Over 3,165,026 of these pennies are thought to have been minted in San Francisco. Unfortunately, we don’t have an exact figure on Type 1 and Type 2 quantities but suffice it to say, both are relatively common.

On average, uncirculated quality S pennies Type 1 can sell for between $12 to $18. And like the previous coins, local vendors from the area may pay more.

1981 S Penny – Type 2

1981 S Penny – Type 2

  • Type: Lincoln Penny
  • Edge: Plain
  • Mint mark: Letter ‘S’
  • Place of minting: San Francisco
  • Year of minting: 1981
  • Face value: $0.02
  • $ Price: $6-56
  • Quantity produced: Over 5,373,235,000
  • Designer: Victor David Brenner & Frank Gasparro
  • Composition: Copper (95%), Zinc (5%) 
  • Mass: 11 grams

The final 1981 coin we will discuss is the S penny Type 2. The sole difference between this coin and the Type 1 is that Type 2 pennies have a cleaner, clearer ‘S’ maker’s mark on the obverse side.

This sleeker lettering makes the coin slightly more valuable than other 1981 pennies, as they sell on average between $6-$30. If you are lucky enough to own a new conditioned Type 2 penny, it can sell for as high as $56.

1981 Penny History

Also known as the Lincoln Memorial penny, the 1981 penny is part of perhaps the most recognizable coin series in America, if not the world.

Despite its name, the coin’s original creation dates to 1959 as a commemorative celebration of President Abraham Lincoln’s 150th birthday anniversary. This change replaced the older Wheat penny design, minted continuously since the early 1900s.

On the “heads” side of the coin was a portrait of the president facing right, designed by Lithuanian sculptor and engraver Victor David Brenner. On the reverse “tails” side is the Lincoln memorial building, designed by the United States Mint chief engraver Frank Gasparro.

The chemical composition of the coin changed throughout the decades, inspired mainly by the fluctuating market prices of copper and war efforts.

Initially, pennies consisted of 95% copper. However, this changed in 1943 during World War 2, when copper had to be rationed. Zinc-coated steel was an ideal substitute.

After the war, the composition of pennies returned to normal through the 50s, 60s, 70s, and up until 1881. A massive increase in inflation caused copper prices to surge. From 1982 onwards, the penny’s composition reverted to 95% zinc and 5% copper-plated zinc.

For this reason, 1981 pennies were the last in the series made mainly using copper. While generic 1981 coins trade today at their face value of 1-2c, having a coin with some errors can transform their value tenfold.

Coins with unique letters also note it’s a place of production, e.g., D (Denver) and S (San Francisco). No mark indicates the coin is from Philadelphia. In the eyes of coin collectors, these location coins can add a significant market to otherwise generic coins.

Despite ceasing production in 2008, billions of 1981 pennies are circulating today. A US law prohibiting melting copper coins for profit ensures they will continue spreading for some time.

1981 Penny Grading

The value of collectible coins follows a standard grading system, which is often calculated based on the coin’s strike, luster, color, and preservation. Grades range from the lowest level, Poor, to the highest level, Mint/Flawless.

Below you can see just how a 1981 penny can be graded and valued:

List of 1981 Penny Errors

Like any collectible, an error or slight variation can help increase the coin’s value. The value can depend on the specific mistake and the coin’s condition.

Below are some common errors to expect:

1. 1981 Penny printed on different coin types

A standard error for many 1981 pennies is their being minted on different-sized coins, including nickels and dimes. These larger-sized coins mean the overall picture of Abraham Lincoln is distorted or ill-proportioned. Coin valuation channel JBCOINSINC reported that one of these coins sold for an astounding $1,207 at auction.

2. 1981 Off-Center Penny Errors

1981 Off-Center Penny

Like any coin, the 1981 penny may not have been adequately set during production, causing the portrait of Abraham Lincoln to be off-center, laid at an angle, or parts missing from the coin. The more distorted or unconventional the design, the more valuable the coin becomes.

3. 1981 Penny with break error

1981 Penny with break

This error results from the die (used to strike the coin) cracking or breaking during production. The result can be a scuffed, distinct line that marks the coin’s surface area. While some might mistake these errors as circulation damage, a broken die can be pretty valuable at auction, such as this 1981 coin with a break error selling for $14. 

4. 1981 Double Struck Penny Errors

1981 Double Struck Penny

A double-struck 1981 penny will appear to have two images merged, one on top of the other. The coin will be misshaped, looking more oval or thicker than average. Because of their rarity, double-struck 1981 pennies often sell for a premium of at least $80 or more.

1981 Penny Value FAQ

What makes a 1981 penny rare?

Arguably the most valuable mint of the 1981 penny is the S Penny Proof – Type 2. Uncirculated, it can sell for up to $30 – more if in mint condition.

What makes the 1981 penny so unique?

The 1981 penny was the last Lincoln penny primarily made of copper. Following this series, zinc was the primary ingredient.

Can I still use my 1981 penny today?

It is currently illegal to melt pennies in the US. For this reason, 1981 pennies are still considered legal tender and are usable in everyday commerce.

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