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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 presidential years.

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 cannon.

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 Illinois.

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 group.

“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, Marks explained.

“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 depictions.”

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 Capitol building.
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 Emancipation Proclamation.

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 should be.”

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 favorite.

“I love the wheat penny,” he said. “It’s too bad we can’t bring that back for one year.”

Who Chooses?
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. Mint.
- 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 Springfield.

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 libraries.

- Springfield College-Benedictine University, which will receive $7,645 to publish a literary journal.

- Jacksonville Area Lincoln Bicentennial Commission, which is getting $49,517 to distribute a book about Lincoln to schoolchildren and promote reading, writing and the arts.

- 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 and Springfield.

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 lincoln200.net.

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