This year, 2009, marks the bicentennial of President Abraham Lincoln’s birth (February 12) and the 100th anniversary of the Lincoln penny (August 2), the longest-circulating coin in U.S. history. To celebrate these milestones, the U.S. Mint has been releasing redesigned Lincoln pennies all year long. It is the first redesign of the penny since the reverse of the original Lincoln wheat penny was replaced with a picture of the Lincoln Memorial in 1959.
The obverse, or front, of the new coins remains unchanged, using the same Victor D. Brenner design from 100 years ago. But four new designs have been created for the coins’ reverse. The first depicts Lincoln’s Kentucky log-cabin home. In February, two-roll sets of those coins sold out within two weeks. The second new Lincoln penny shows the future president taking a break from his job as an Indiana log-splitter to catch up on some reading. These coins are selling fast but were still available from the U.S. Mint as we went to press. The third design goes on sale August 13. It will show Lincoln standing before the Old State Capital in Springfield, Illinois. The last coin goes will be issued on November 12, or thereabouts. It will depict the construction of the U.S. Capitol Dome, which occurred during Lincoln’s presidency.
All of which may seem like a lot of fuss for a coin that costs more to make than it’s worth (from 1.23 to 1.7 cents, depending mostly on the price of zinc) and has an active movement lined up to hasten its demise. But even if you get rid of the penny, one dollar will still be worth 100 pennies. Do we really want a currency system which has no denomination for its most basic basic unit? For me, that simply doesn’t make a whole lot of (wait for it) sense.