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Lincolns Turn One Hundred
By Dr. R.S. Bartanowicz

"So, is there a future for the Lincoln cent?" Our numismatist pulled at his newly grown beard and rolled his eyes upward as he replied. "Doesn't the numismatic community have this conversation every year? It's the same every year. Some folks get all steamed up and just about threaten to march on the Mint to picket in favor of keeping the cent. Others feel that the cent has outlived it usefulness. And then there are those who don't have a strong opinion either way."

Our numismatist's chum nodded, saying, "Yes, I hear you. On the other hand, the Lincoln cent has been working hard for us since 1909. Isn't it time to retire the poor old cent? Seriously, the coin has no purchasing power. The cent is strictly a change maker, and no one likes a pocket full of pennies. I know that the Mint has smart people, and I'm sure that someone can come up with a solution to replace the one-cent piece."

"And who would appear on the new denomination?" our numismatist asked. "Would it be Lincoln or someone else? Of course, I've always felt that only two Americans should grace our circulating coins, namely George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. Others see it differently."

His chum quickly answered. "Regardless, you and I won't be making the decision. The price of raw materials and production will most likely determine the future of the cent. I just think that change is coming one way or another for the one-cent piece. In the meantime, we are going to have four new designs for the 2009 Lincoln cent and another new design for 2010. I'll probably purchase the coins for sentimental reasons." Our numismatist laughed, saying, "Face it, we're both coin junkies.

Yes, this is an old story. Every year seems to bring on the "penny" debate. Yes, the one-cent piece has no purchasing power, but it is a change maker. Yes, we don't like to carry these small brown coins, but we're used to them. Yes, we shouldn't pay more money to produce them then they are worth, but we can just stop minting until the price of materials goes down. And the arguments go on to include using different materials and so on. But let's talk about President Lincoln's birthday party and the Mint's celebration with four new 2009 cent designs.

Abraham Lincoln was born on Feb. 12, 1809. In 1909 the United States honored the "Great Emancipator" by striking a one-cent coin featuring his likeness on the obverse. The reverse featured wheat ears.

The humble one cent has since remained pretty much the same for the past 100 years. The only major design change was to the reverse, in 1959, when the Lincoln Memorial replaced the wheat ears. Conversely, the metal composition of the cent has changed several times throughout the years. In 1909 the coin was mostly copper. In 1943 it was composed of zinc-coated steel. Bronze was used from 1944-1958, then back to copper in 1959. In 1982 we went to copper-plated zinc, which continues through today.

The Lincoln cent occupies a soft spot with most collectors. Because of its longevity and low cost, the Lincoln cent has been the bread and butter coin for young collectors starting out in the hobby. So what does the future hold?

Starting this year there will be four new one-cent pieces. The new Lincoln cents will be issued in three-month increments. The first issue will be placed in circulation on Feb. 12, 2009. The four different cents will still feature Lincoln on the obverse. The reverses will be new and will honor the four distinctive periods of Lincoln's life. The first will honor his early life in Kentucky; the second his Indiana days; the third his Illinois years followed by the final coin that will salute and honor his Presidency. In 2010 another new Lincoln cent reverse change will take place.

With all these new one-cent pieces there will be Mint products aside from the circulating coins. One intriguing product will feature the new one-cent pieces struck with the exact same material composition (95 percent copper) used in 1909.

So perhaps the humble one-cent piece isn't dead yet since the mint has plans for the 2010 circulation issue. Of course there will be grumbling about the proliferation of new cents and especially Mint products. As to Mint products, a lot of people like them. The old adage of "vote with your pocket book" comes into play here. If you like the products and can afford it, then go ahead and buy them if you so wish. Otherwise, pull some coins from circulation. At one-cent apiece, the price is right.

The argument about the usefulness of the one-cent piece will go on for years. I believe that the one-cent piece will eventually be replaced by another denomination such as a 2 1/2-cent piece, which would seem to be a logical change maker.

That's my take on the humble Lincoln cent. Perhaps we can revisit this again in 2010?


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