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Penny Gets a Makeover

U.S. Mint to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Lincoln's birth with new coin designs

By Laura Leigh Davidson | September 22 , 2008

The penny is getting a makeover. The United States Mint revealed four new designs for the 1-cent piece, to celebrate the coming bicentennial (200th anniversary) of President Abraham Lincoln's birth.

United States Mint Director Ed Moy unveiled the new looks for the penny today in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.

"These coins are a tribute to one of our greatest Presidents, whose legacy has had a lasting impact on our country," Moy said.

The heads side (also known as the obverse) of the new pennies will continue to bear the profile likeness of President Lincoln and the motto "In God We Trust." The reverse sides will pay tribute to four major parts of Lincoln's life.

The first redesigned penny will feature a log cabin that represents Lincoln's birthplace, near Hodgenville, Kentucky.

The second design shows Lincoln reading a book while sitting on a log with his ax beside him. This depiction is a tribute to how Lincoln educated himself while working as a rail-splitter during his adolescence in Indiana.

The third design shows Lincoln as a young man in front of the Capitol in Illinois. The fourth and final design shows a half-finished United States Capitol dome, which was completed in 1863 despite the raging Civil War.

The inscriptions, or writing, on the reverse sides of the coins will remain "United States of America," "E Pluribus Unum" and "One Cent." (The Latin motto e pluribus unum "from many, one" appears on the Great Seal of the United States and on all U.S. coins.)

The first penny will be released into circulation on February 12, 2009, Lincoln's 200th birthday. This day is also the 100th anniversary of the release of the first penny, on February 12, 1909. One new coin will be released into circulation every three months in 2009.

"This is a momentous occasion in the history of our nation's coinage because these designs represent the first change in the Lincoln cent in half a century," said Director Moy.

A commemorative Lincoln silver dollar will also be released in 2009.

Coin Collectors Care

The practicality of the penny is a subject of debate. It costs more than 1 cent to make an individual penny, so the coins cost more than they are worth. Those who support retiring the penny also argue that the coins slow down transactions at cash registers.

If the penny is retired, the same transactions would be rounded to the nearest nickel. In many cases. that will make things you buy at the store more expensive. Advocates for keeping the penny also say the coin is too historically significant to stop producing.

So who is most excited about the new pennies? More than likely, coin collectors, also known as numismatists, will be most interested. But Gary Adkins, president of the Professional Numismatists Guild, doesn't think a spike in interest will do much to save the Lincoln cent.

"The Mint has been producing cents for circulation for 215 years since 1793 and they're fun to collect, but the usefulness of one-cent denomination coins is questionable," Adkins said in a statement. "Pennies may go the way of the two-cent, three-cent and twenty-cent denomination coins that were eliminated in the 1800s."

But for now, the old saying still goes: "If you find a penny, pick it up—all day you'll have good luck."


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Penny Image 1: Birth and Early Childhood in Kentucky Reverse. Designer: Richard Masters. Sculptor: Jim Licaretz. Description: This reverse features a log cabin that represents Lincoln’s humble beginnings in Kentucky.

Penny Image 2: Formative Years in Indiana Reverse. Designer: Charles Vickers. Sculptor: Charles Vickers Description: This reverse depicts a young Lincoln educating himself while working as a rail splitter in Indiana.

Penny Image 3: Professional Life in Illinois Reverse. Designer: Joel Iskowitz. Sculptor: Don Everhart. Description: This reverse depicts the young professional Abraham Lincoln in front of the State Capitol in Illinois.

Penny Image 4: Presidency in DC Reverse. Designer: Susan Gamble. Sculptor: Joseph Menna. Description: This reverse features the half finished United States Capitol dome.

Credit: U.S. Mint

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