Someone must call tails
By Bruce Rushton
Everyone has a thought
for the new penny
A new penny to debut next year will feature
Abraham Lincoln standing outside the Old State
Capitol. Or maybe not.
It’s the Civil War all over again, with the
emphasis on civil.
“This has been going on now for about a year,”
said Beth Deisher, editor of Coin World
magazine, where controversy over the Lincoln
penny has been front-page fodder for months.
“It’s been fairly controversial.”
Heads is easy: The current portrait, in use
since 1909, will remain. Tails is tough.
The U.S. Mint has come up with dozens of ideas
for the backs of four pennies to commemorate the
bicentennial of Lincoln’s birth in 2009.
Pursuant to an act of Congress, one of the
pennies must depict Lincoln’s early life in
Kentucky, where he was born. The second is
supposed to show his formative years in Indiana.
The third will reflect his life in Illinois, and
the fourth is supposed to represent Lincoln’s
But two advisory committees to the U.S. Treasury
haven’t been able to agree on the designs. One,
the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee, has
rejected every proposal from the mint for
Lincoln’s presidential years. In late January,
they came up with their own idea: a picture of a
Meanwhile, the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts,
which includes several architects, has favored
buildings, including the Old State Capitol for
Lincoln’s years in Illinois and the Capitol
building in Washington for his tenure as
president. Instead of the Old State Capitol, the
citizens committee picked a beardless Lincoln
holding a document to commemorate his years in
With Kentucky, almost everyone agreed it was a
question of deciding which picture of a log
cabin looked best.
“It’s classic,” said John Alexander, a history
professor at the University of Cincinnati who
sits on the citizens committee.
Indiana was a bit trickier, but the committees
were both in the same ballpark, with the
citizens panel picking a picture of Lincoln
writing and the arts commission choosing a
close-up of Lincoln’s hands holding a quill pen.
Controversy grew as Lincoln aged.
The citizens committee, at the behest of the
federal Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission,
considered a motion that Stephen Douglas,
Lincoln’s opponent in a series of debates during
the 1858 U.S. Senate race, not be pictured. That
didn’t sit well with Gary Marks, city manager of
Whitefish, Mont., who sits on the citizens
“That’s how Lincoln rose to national prominence
was the Lincoln-Douglas debates,” Marks said.
Marks doesn’t favor featuring the Old State
Capitol, and he’s not alone. The Old State
Capitol was the arts commission’s top choice,
but it didn’t finish in the top five when the
citizens committee voted. It’s not the building
so much as what’s practical on a penny that
measures three-quarters of an inch in diameter,
“Blown up, maybe it looks wonderful,” Marks
said. “You reduce that down, imagine how big
Lincoln is. A few millimeters?”
The Rev. Richard Meier of Rockford agreed that
the Old State Capitol just wasn’t good enough.
“It’s not that we were totally opposed to it,”
Meier said. “It’s just that there were better
Reaching consensus on how to depict Lincoln’s
presidential years has proven impossible.
The arts commission first endorsed a
half-completed Capitol dome to commemorate
Lincoln’s decision to keep construction going
while the Civil War raged. The commission later
changed its mind and decided on a completed
The citizens committee, however, rejected every
proposal from the mint last fall and asked for
more ideas. Lincoln, committee members said,
needed to be shown as a wartime president,
perhaps visiting troops. At least one committee
member suggested an image commemorating the
When the committee met again in January, the
mint presented more than a dozen new images,
including Lincoln signing the Emancipation
Proclamation and Lincoln in his trademark
stovepipe hat, according to Coin World. Again,
the committee said no to each one. A picture of
Lincoln standing next to a cannon was the best
of a bad lot, the committee decided, and so it
recommended removing Lincoln and showing just a
cannon with “E Pluribus Unum” on the coin’s
bottom and “The Union Preserved” on top.
“The committee doesn’t usually get into
redesigning the options the mint gives us, but
in this case, we did,” Marks said. “I just think
there’s honest disagreements on what the design
Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson will make the
final call and gets to pick any design he likes.
Michael White, spokesman for the U.S. Mint, said
he does not know when Paulson will decide.
A design for a Lincoln dollar coin, which will
be considerably larger than a penny, has been
less controversial, with both committees
agreeing to a picture of Lincoln’s head on the
front and a passage from the Gettysburg Address
on the back. In 2010, a new permanent penny will
be minted to replace Lincoln Memorial with a
depiction of Lincoln unifying the nation.
When it comes to tails, Marks has a hands-down
“I love the wheat penny,” he said. “It’s too bad
we can’t bring that back for one year.”
Two advisory committees review designs for new
coins. The secretary of the Treasury makes the
final call. The committees:
- Established in 2003, the 11-member Citizens
Coinage Advisory Committee recommends artwork
for coins based on choices presented by the U.S.
- Created in 1910, the seven-member U.S.
Commission of Fine Arts provides advice on
monuments and historic preservation in
Washington as well as on coin design.
Lincoln panel announces $700K in grants
The Illinois Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial
Commission on Monday announced $700,000 in state
grants to 25 projects throughout the state aimed
at commemorating the 200th anniversary of
Abraham Lincoln’s birth.
The winners range from the Tour de Lincoln, a
360-mile bicycle tour through Kentucky, Indiana
and Illinois that will receive $2,000 in state
help, to the Tinsley Project, which will get
$60,000 to help restore Lincoln’s law office, a
courtroom and a dry-goods store in downtown
Other grants winners include:
- The Illinois State Library to help fund an
essay contest for schoolchildren. The $3,153
grant will be used to promote the contest.
- Network Knowledge of Springfield, which will
use a $42,593 grant to produce videos about
Lincoln that will be distributed to schools and
- Springfield College-Benedictine University,
which will receive $7,645 to publish a literary
- Jacksonville Area Lincoln Bicentennial
Commission, which is getting $49,517 to
distribute a book about Lincoln to
schoolchildren and promote reading, writing and
- Main Street Lincoln in Logan County will get
$56,000 to create an information kiosk,
brochures, signs and a painting of Lincoln
delivering a speech.
- Eight Lincoln-Douglas debate traveling
exhibits will be created at a cost of $25,311
and given to eight cities: Alton, Galesburg,
Freeport, Quincy, Charleston, Jonesboro, Ottawa
In addition to the grants, the commission
announced a contest to pick a person to read
excerpts of Lincoln speeches and writings for
public service announcements to be distributed
to radio stations. To enter the Voice of Lincoln
competition, contestants must record themselves
reading two scripts available online at