A Historic Year: 2009 Focuses on Centennial of the Lincoln Cent

The most reproduced piece of art in the history of the world isn’t the Mona Lisa, The Last Supper or The Pieta. It’s sculptor Victor D. Brenner’s Lincoln portrait for the cent, introduced in 1909. (Photo: Heritage Auctions)

By Gerald Tebben

The Lincoln cent turned 100 years old in 2009. During the year, hobby publications, history magazines and daily newspapers were filled with articles about the milestone.

Here are 10 facts you’re not likely to read elsewhere:

1. The New York Times reported on the cent’s release that blacks in some communities called the coin “emancipation money.” The Civil War had ended only 44 years earlier when the coin was issued in 1909 and many Americans remembered their days in slavery.

2. Democrats criticized President Theodore Roosevelt for proposing the coin. Roosevelt and Lincoln were Republicans. Democrats saw the coin not as an honor for a great president, but rather as a partisan misuse of the apparatus of government.

3. After production of 1909 Lincoln, v.d.b. and 1909-S Lincoln, v.d.b. cents was halted, Mint workshops ground designer Victor D. Brenner’s initials off the reverse dies. Lincoln cent expert Dr. Sol Taylor says remnants of the initials can be seen on some 1910 cents.

4. One 1959-D Lincoln cent is known with the Wheat reverse instead of the Lincoln Memorial. The Secret Service says it is genuine. Many collectors are skeptical of the alleged transitional piece. No major grading firm has certified it.

5. The United States struck coins for use in European countries as they were liberated during World War II. In 1944, the Philadelphia Mint struck 25 million Belgian 2-franc coins on planchets of the same size and standard as those used to strike 1943 zinc-coated steel cents. A few 1944 U.S. cents were accidentally struck on steel planchets. These errors were—take your pick—struck on either foreign planchets or leftover U.S. planchets.

The Secret Service says exactly one 1959-D Lincoln cent is known to have been struck with the Wheat reverse instead of the Lincoln Memorial. Many collectors are skeptical. (Photo: Heritage Auctions)

6. The most reproduced piece of art in the history of the world isn’t the “Mona Lisa,” “The Last Supper” or “The Pieta,” it is Brenner’s Lincoln portrait. It has been replicated millions of times each year for a century. Annual mintages range from a low of seven million in 1922 to more than 14 billion in 2000.

7. A cent in 1909 had the buying power of more than 23 cents today. Newspapers cost a cent or two when the Lincoln cent was released. Recently, it has cost more than a cent to make a cent.

8. During the 1974 cent shortage, the Treasury Department issued certificates of appreciation to everyone who turned in 500 cents.

9. Billions of cents were struck at the West Point Bullion Depository between 1974 and 1985, but none have a W Mint mark. They are indistinguishable from Philadelphia Mint coins.

10. The designer’s initials did not appear on cents struck after mid-1909 and before 1918, when v.d.b. was placed on the beveled edge beneath Lincoln’s bust. Crooks who altered 1944-D cents to scarce 1914-D cents often completed their work with a well-placed scratch along the bottom of Lincoln’s bust.

Gerald Tebben, a longtime numismatist, is editor of the Central States Numismatic Society’s Centinel and a contributing writer to Coin World.

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