A wooden penny sounds like a coin that George Washington would have used to buy ice cream. (George Washington died in 1799, almost 100 years before the first US wooden penny would have been made.)
A wooden penny can be found in circulation, you have probably held hundreds or thousands of wooden pennies in your lifetime; without even knowing it!
Unlike what the name suggests, a wooden penny contains no wood.
So… What is a Wooden Penny?
A wooden penny, also known as a wood grain penny, is a copper penny with an improper blend of metals.
The term is used to describe a striped toning that sometimes appears on copper pennies. The toning appears after many years, and will only show up on pennies where the zinc and copper did not blend properly during production.
When wood pennies were produced, the improperly mixed copper and zinc was rolled into a thin sheet. This rolling caused the zinc to stretch across what would be the surface of the coin.
Since copper tones faster than zinc, the zinc appears darker on the coin, creating the striations that resemble wood grain.
Since it takes weeks to decades for a coin to begin toning. The mint had no way of knowing the coins would develop the wood pattern when they were sent out into circulation.
Are Wooden Pennies Valuable?
Unfortunately, no, these pennies do not command a premium. In fact none of the major coin graders have a classification for wooden pennies.
This could change if demand increases for these pennies. I think the toning makes these coins even more attractive, so I save many wooden pennies I find.
You may be able to find a buyer online who is willing to pay slightly more for a wood grain penny that has a good “eye-appeal”, but it is very subjective.
Are Wooden Pennies Error Coins?
Yes, technically wooden pennies are error coins since the design and composition differs from the ideal look of the coin, and it happened during production.
Here is a quote from PCGS:
Therefore, yes! A wooden penny is considered an error coin, even though PCGS does not officially grade them as such.
Unfortunately, not all errors are valuable even when they are not graded, as is the case with the wood grain penny.
Does the Wood grain Pattern Only Happen With Pennies?
Not at all! Any coin made with a mix of copper and zinc could have this error. But it must be composed of a blend of zinc and copper, not just copper coated.
You can find the wood grain pattern on: Lincoln cents, Indian Head Pennies, Two Cent Pieces, and Flying Eagle Cents.
Remember how I said George Washington would have been dead before the US penny could have been minted? That is because the Two Cent Piece, minted from 1864-1873, was the first US coin to be minted using copper and zinc. (This mixture was called French bronze at the time.)
Although the oldest possible example for a US coin with a wooden pattern would be from 1864, there have been foreign coins exhibiting the wood grain toning.