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National Lost Penny Day – February 12th

Sprinkled on sidewalks, pressed between cushions, rattling within washing machines – pennies are seemingly everywhere and with more than 300 billion pennies minted since 1787, there’s no foreseen shortage of the one-cent coin. Also Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, today is the day to pay homage to one of the nation’s most noble leaders and his legacy preserved on two forms of American currency. Despite its small value, the penny has endured the lengthiest and most evolving history of any United States issued coin:

·        (1787) – Benjamin Franklin designed the first U.S. penny, known as the “Fugio” cent, composed of pure copper and over five times heavier than today’s issue, depicting a meridian sun over a sundial with the words “Mind Your Own Business” on the obverse (heads) and “We Are One” surrounded by 13 chains on the reverse (tails).

·        (1856) – The “Flying Eagle” cent was produced with a change in chemical composition (88% copper, 12% nickel) and included the word “Liberty” after it was mandated in 1792 to be included on all U.S. coins.

·        (1909) – President Roosevelt chose to honor the nation’s 16th president on his 100th birthday by including him in the revision. Sculptor and engraver, Victor David Brenner was commissioned for the design, adapting the likeness of a bronze plaque he had previously created based on a photograph of Lincoln. This is most likely the reason Lincoln is the only coin produced with the figure facing to the right. While the original coin bore Brenner’s initials “V.D.B” along the bottom rim, it was removed after complaints were received it detracted from the overall design. Brenner’s initials were restored in 1918 and can be found in microscopic form just below Lincoln’s shoulder.

·        (1943) – To conserve copper for the war efforts, pennies were produced using zinc-coated steel.

·        (1959) – In honor of Lincoln’s 150th birthday, the reverse (tails) was revised to render the Marble Lincoln Memorial.

·        (2009) – Celebrating Lincoln’s 200th birthday and 100th anniversary of the Lincoln cent, four designs portraying different phases of Lincoln’s life were issued.

·        (2010) – The modern Lincoln cent features the union shield on the reverse with 13 stripes, symbolizing the 13 colonies and a single bar at the top with the motto “E Pluribus Unum” (Latin meaning “One out of many”).

Big unknowns about the small change:

·        Present day chemical composition of the coin is 97.5% zinc and 2.5% copper.

·        The single letter sometimes found beneath the issue date on the penny is called the Mint Mark and details where the coin originated: Denver (D), San Francisco (S). The absence of a letter indicates it was minted in Philadelphia.

·        The Lincoln cent was the first one-cent denomination to include the motto “E Pluribus Unum” meaning “One out of many”.

·        Coins to this day are produced with the “Coin Turn” method, meaning the reverse (tails) is upside down relative to the obverse (heads).  This is done as a means to preserve tradition although historians have been unable to determine the reason for this strange production method.

·        A 1974-D aluminum penny was discovered, resulting in a 2 year court battle for right of ownership between the U.S. Mint and two California residents. The U.S. Mint won arguing the aluminum cent was never produced as legal tender. Even more peculiar is the fact that no aluminum pennies are on record as being produced at the Denver Mint facility.


Dust off all those pennies (and other coins) hiding in the nooks and crannies of your house and car and put them to good use:

·        Convert them into cash and open a savings account

·        Flip a penny to let Lincoln make your decisions for you today

·        Look for rare pennies

·        Donate to a good cause