Penny lovers offer their two cents about the coppery coins in honor of National One Cent Day
Here’s a penny for your thoughts today.
The one-cent pieces stamped with President Abraham Lincoln’s profile don’t get a lot of respect. In fact, 56% of coin experts think the penny will be phased out of circulation by 2026, according to a 2015 survey, which noted the U.S. Mint currently loses more than $50 million a year on pennies due to rising metal prices pushing the cost of making the mostly zinc coins to about 1.5 cents apiece. Groups like the Americans for Common Cents, on the other hand, advocate for the penny’s economic, cultural and historical significance,
But Joshua McMorrow-Hernandez, a writer from the U.S. Coin Guide’s Fun Times Guide blog, told Moneyish that the penny “lives to see another day” despite having less and less economic relevance in our increasingly cashless society, thanks to zinc industry lobbyists and nostalgists fighting to keep it in circulation.
“It’s a coin that everyone can afford and that we all seem to have laying around somewhere. They are more accessible to the average person — you don’t need to set up a bank account or mobile app to use pennies, and one-cent coins will still work even when power outages or data failures occur,” he noted, adding that it’s the perfect currency for small kids and the superstitious. “What about the old saying, ‘Find a penny, pick it up. All day long, you’ll have good luck?’ That common rhyme is known even by many of today’s young children … who may not necessarily have bank cards or mobile accounts on hand, but they certainly love to count and save bunches of pennies!”
1. It’s actually not called a “penny.” The official name is the “one-cent” coin. The word “penny” came from the British denomination of the same name. And since British pennies were widely circulated throughout the American colonies (and were still considered legal tender) during the nation’s earliest years, the British term stuck to our own copper coin of similar face value.
2. They’re not made of copper anymore. The modern one-cent coin is actually composed mainly of zinc with a copper coating. Why the change? In 1943, the cent was struck from a special zinc-plated steel composition to ration copper for ammunition shell casings during World War II.
3. While the Mint struck more than one billion steel cents during WWII (and these are the only U.S. coins that are attracted to magnets), a handful were accidentally struck from bronze. These rare 1943 bronze cents are worth about $100,000 apiece today.
4. The early “pennies” were 29 millimeters wide, or roughly the size of a modern half dollar. These so-called “large cents” were made until 1857, and are still popular with coin collectors. Merchants would even drop a few copper “large cents” pieces into pickle barrels because they would keep the pickles a bright green color.
5. The “small-size” one-cent coins that we’re more familiar with using today were first struck in 1856, and measure just 19 millimeters in diameter.
6. If you want to collect pennies, there is one year you’ll never see on an authentic U.S. one-cent coin: 1815. That’s because we used to get the copper for them from an English supplier, but the War of 1812 that pitted us against the U.K. stopped those shipments. The Mint ran out of copper in late 1814, and by the time shipments resumed in late 1815, it was too late to mint pennies with 1815 on them.
7. The U.S. Mint produces five to 10 billion one-cent coins each year, accounting for about two-thirds of the Mint’s total yearly coinage production. It’s estimated there are between 140 billion and 200 billion one-cent coins in circulation.
8. When the Abraham Lincoln penny was first minted in 1909 to celebrate what would’ve been his 100th birthday, Lincoln became the first president to appear on a regularly circulating coin. It was designed by sculptor and engraver Victor David Brenner with Lincoln’s familiar portrait on the “head’s side” and two wheat stalks on the “tails side.” Then in 1959, the wheat design was replaced with an image of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.
9. But before Lincoln cents, the penny was also known as the less politically correct “Indian Head” cent for featuring Lady Liberty in a Native American headdress. And the “Indian Head” cents minted during the Civil War had a significant amount of nickel — so they were often called “nickels” or “nicks” despite being worth one cent versus five. They were also paler than other pennies.
10. One of the most famous coin “mistakes” can be found on a 1955 Lincoln cent: It bears a doubled obverse design, meaning the image is doubled. Only about 24,000 of these erroneously struck 1955 Lincoln cents were released, and each is worth about $1,000 or more — so check your change!
— Penny City Warrior (@penny_city) March 29, 2018
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