The Copper Penny

It was not until 1857 that the size of the fugio cent was reduced to the penny’s present size and the composition changed to a copper alloy.

Go or Stay

In recent years, a fierce debate has sprung up around the innocent little penny. A group calling itself Citizens for Retiring the Penny advocates scrapping all 130 billion of the penny coins now in circulation and rounding off prices of all goods and services to the nearest nickel.

Since it costs 1.73 pennies to mint one penny, the citizens group argues that it is a losing proposition to continue to make pennies. Some members of Congress also agree.

On the other side of the controversy is an organization called Americans

for Common Cents. This pro-penny group seeks to save the penny from the chopping block, pleading that this unique coin is an integral part of the nation’s history and heritage. Many Americans concur.

A recent poll by the Opinion Research Corporation found that 69 percent of Americans want to hang on to the penny.

In fact, one Alabama man wanted so much to keep his pennies that he saved pennies for thirty-eight years, storing them first in cans and jugs and finally in fifty-five-gallon drums that he kept in his garage. When Edmond Knowles finally decided to cash in his stash, he had a hard time finding a place that would redeem his hoard.

Banks turned him away when he told them how many pennies he had. Finally, a company that manufactures coin exchange machines agreed to redeem the pennies. The company sent an armored truck to cart away Knowles’ four and one-half tons of spare change — 1,308,459 pennies in all—and paid him $13,084.59 for them.

Indian Head Penny

Indian Head Penny

The Indian head penny, which was first minted in 1859, is considered by many collectors to be the most attractive US copper coin ever produced. The Indian head has an elegantly simple design. The obverse side bears the head of an Indian princess in full-feathered headdress with the word “Liberty” on her headband. The reverse side shows a circular laurel wreath with a shield and the words “ONE CENT” in the middle.

Minted continuously from 1859 to 1909, the Indian head penny is believed by many people to be a good luck coin. About 1.8 billion Indian head pennies were minted before they were replaced by the Lincoln penny.

Some Indian head pennies are rare and quite expensive, but many are well within the reach of a beginning collector . Indian heads dating from 1880 to 1909 are quite common and can be purchased for only a few dollars. The rarest of Indian heads, though, is the 1877 issue. Other very rare issues are the 1869 with a doubled 9, the 1872, and the 1908-S coins.

Lincoln Penny

The Lincoln penny was minted for the first time in 1909, on the one hundredth birthday of the former president. Instead of the familiar Lincoln Memorial that is found on the reverse side of the current Lincoln penny, the first Lincoln penny had a wheat-ears pattern on the reverse. The wheat ears were replaced with the Lincoln Memorial in 1959, to mark Lincoln’s 150th birthday. This made the Lincoln penny the first coin to have the same person on the obverse and reverse sides of a coin. If you look very closely at the reverse side of a fairly new Lincoln penny, you will see the Lincoln statue inside the Lincoln Memorial.

When the coin was first minted, some citizens argued that a man of Lincoln’s stature deserved to be on a higher-denomination coin than the lowly penny. Other citizens felt that since Lincoln was known as the common man’s president, reproducing his likeness on the penny was symbolic of his concern for ordinary folks.

The Lincoln penny is due for a make over soon. Four new reverse designs with themes from Lincoln’s life will grace pennies issued in 2009 to commemorate the former president’s two hundredth birthday. A penny bearing a fifth, and permanent, design will be issued in 2010. The

obverse side of all these new coins will remain as it is now.

1943 Copper Penny

The rare 1943 copper penny was a fluke . In 1943, World War II was raging, and copper and nickel were desperately needed for the Allied war effort. Because of the shortage of the two metals, all pennies minted that year were to be made of zinc-coated steel, but not quite all actually were.

When production began on the new steel pennies, a handful of copper blanks were also in the press hopper. These shiny coppers were struck along with the new batch of unattractive, gray-colored steel pennies . Somewhere in the world today, there are approximately forty (40) very valuable 1943 copper pennies.

The 1943 copper penny is the dream of every serious coin collector. In 1996, a collector paid $82,500 for a 1943 copper penny, the highest amount ever paid for one of these special coins.

Due to their great value, the 1943 copper pennies have long been a target of counterfeiters. Some of the counterfeiters have tried to coat a 1943 steel penny with copper, or alter the dates of 1945, 1948 , or 1949 copper pennies in order to make them appear to be 1943 pennies.

The copper that was made available for the US war effort by the minting of steel pennies was estimated to have been enough to build two cruisers, two destroyers, 1,242 Flying Fortress bombers, 120 field guns, and 120 Howitzer cannons—or enough to make 1.250.000 shells for the big field guns. The homely little 1943 steel pennies were indeed heroes of World War II.

Philadelphia Mint

The Copper Penny

In colonial America, people used a hodgepodge of currencies. British, Portuguese, Spanish, French, and German money all served as an exchange medium, as did livestock, wampum, and crops. Business also was transacted using currency issued by individual colonies.

Even after the colonies declared independence from Britain in 1776, the country still relied on British and other foreign coinage. This was a sore spot for many Americans, especially since Great Britain’s coins bore the likeness of unpopular King George III.

The framers of the Constitution realized that the fledgling country needed a standard monetary system of its own, and they passed the Mint Act of 1792, which authorized the building of the nation’s first mint in Philadelphia, the US capital at the time.

When the new mint began production in 1793, it was a tentative operation. The mint’s first cautious purchase of metal was six pounds of copper, which was used to mint cents and half cents. The metal used to strike the first silver coins came from silverware in George and Martha Washington’s household. By the close of the year 1800, after seven years in operation, the new mint had minted and distributed $2,534,000 worth of coins.

As the nation grew and the demand for coins increased, mint facilities were then expanded again and again. Today, the US Mint is headquartered in Washington, DC, and has mint facilities in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Denver, Colorado; San Francisco, California; and West Point, New York.

An additional facility in Fort Knox Kentucky, is used to store U S gold bullion.

Pennies are minted only in Philadelphia and Denver, where these coins mak e up about two-thirds of the mints’ output. In 2005, the two mints turned out 7,700,050,500 pennies. Each penny has a life expectancy of about twenty-five years.

Free tours are offered at both the Philadelphia and Denver mints, where visitors can tour exhibits as well as see actual coin production. It is also possible to take a virtual tour on the Web site: to see how coins are designed and manufactured.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Let us hope that our penny coins won’t go the way of penny candy and penny postcards one day. Would we really want to be a penniless society?

Ben Franklin & The Penny



February 2007. (Pgs. 21-25)

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