A Brief History Of The Lincoln Cent
In 1909, a new one cent coin design was commissioned by the United States Mint. The new copper coin design was the new Lincoln Cent, intended as a tribute to the 100th anniversary of the birth of our 16th President. With Lincoln's profile on the front and the circular wheat stalks on the back, what is now known and the “wheat penny” was born.
Designed by Victor David Brenner, a close associate of Theodore Roosevelt, the artwork was brilliant and the public frenzy for the new coin was tremendous. On the first coins in the new design minted in 1909, the designer's initials were inscribed on the reverse bottom. For unknown reasons, this drew criticism from the Secretary of the Treasury, who ordered a stoppage of the minting of 1909 pennies. The San Francisco Mint, because of its location and late arrival of dies from Philadelphia, had only produced 484,000 (approx.) 1909-S pennies with the VDB initials on the back. So, due to the very limited number produced, a 1909-S VDB penny is considered the ultimate in any wheat penny collection. A 1909-VDB, while not as rare as the 1909-S VDB is also a worthy jewel to own.
The VDB initials were removed from the design and production resumed. The letters were later returned to the design, on the front in the margin beneath Lincoln's shoulder. It can be seen with the help of a magnifying glass.
During World War II, copper was a vital war material, so the Treasury was forced to find a replacement metal. Steel cents with a zinc coating were minted in 1943. While unique, the coins soon suffered from rust and worn zinc plating. The next year, copper cents were once again produced, but they were created by using recycled gun shell casings.
In 1955, the San Francisco mint was closed as a cost savings measure by President Eisenhower. The 1955-S cent became a much desired collectors item when it left circulation, especially in the eastern United States, where western mints were scarce.
In 1959, on its 50th Anniversary, the Lincoln Cent design was again changed. The reverse of the coin was changed from the “wheat” design, to show the Lincoln Memorial. Hence, the “Memorial Penny” was born. The design was submitted my Frank Gasparro, a Mint Engraver, and was chosen over many other choices.
1960 will be remembered as the year of the small dates. The first Philadelphia and Denver mints were issued in January, and none were made after that until March. The new coins in March had larger dates than the original issues. The “smaller dates” issued in January are sought by collectors.
In 1968, the San Francisco mint was reopened.
1982 brought a change in the copper content contained in the penny. The new pennies contained a 97.5% zinc core with only a copper coating due the increased price of materials.
As a penny collector, you own pieces that tell of our country's history, while containing stories themselves. Collectors today can thank the early hoarders who stored pennies and had the presence to retain some of the cents for future generation. As the year 2009 approaches, the Lincoln Cent will mark it's 100th Anniversary. Four new designs
will be introduced this year starting in February.
This history is by no means complete or all inclusive and there is probably was much left out, as included. I urge each collector to research their finds and treasures and learn as much about collection and the coins as possible.
History of the 1909 VDB Cent
It is an exciting day for coin collectors when a new coin is released into
circulation. August 2, 1909, was just such a day. It was the day the first
Lincoln cents were released into circulation. Some 27,995,000 coins were
struck. The designer was Victor D. Brenner, the New York sculptor. President
Roosevelt gave his consent to the design, and in honor of the designer, the
initials VDB were placed at the bottom of the reverse. As the coins circulated
differing opinions quickly formed. Soon a controversy arose over the initials.
Popular opinion was that since Brenner had been paid for his design, and
further recognition was not needed. Others said that the letters were too
prominent and that few knew what the notation meant. People also found fault
with the wheat stalks on the reverse side of the cent, contending that they did
not represent this species of grain in true life. The controversy began as
complaints were registered and demands were made that the letters be dropped.
As the controversial coin gained attention many articles were published. One
included comments that southerners did not like Lincoln to begin with and that
the use of his portrait on the cent was unfortunate. In contrast it was written
that many black citizens collected the coins because they revered Lincoln.
Consequently, it was the most publicized coin since the 1883 Liberty Head
nickel without Cents.
The American Numismatic Association held its annual convention in
Montreal from August 9 through 14, 1909, and it was decided that the new
Lincoln cents bearing the initials of Victor D. Brenner would be changed to
eliminate the engraver's signature. The San Francisco Mint version of the
1909-S V.D.B. quickly became recognized as scarce, and later as rare. The
484,000-S V.D.B. coins that were struck have became the possession of
generations of collectors who know the intrinsic value of the coins. In the
end, elimination of the engraver's initials, along with the controversy
surrounding it has made the 1909 V.D.B. coins even more valuable, making it one
of America's most collected coins.