The Lincoln Memorial design receives mixed reviews.
Lincoln Memorial design (1959–2008)
On Sunday morning, December 21, 1958, President Eisenhower's press secretary, James Hagerty, issued a press release announcing that a new reverse design for the cent would begin production on January 2, 1959. The new design, by Frank Gasparro, had been developed by the Treasury in consultation with the Lincoln Sesquicentennial Commission. Approved by the President and by Secretary of the Treasury Robert B. Anderson, the new design featured the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. The redesign came as a complete surprise, as word of the proposal had not been leaked. The coin was officially released on February 12, 1959, the 150th anniversary of Lincoln's birth, although some pieces entered circulation early.
The selected design was the result of an internal competition among the Mint's engravers. Gasparro did not go in person to see the Lincoln Memorial, a place he had never visited. According to Anderson, Gasparro created an "impressive" image of the Memorial, however, Taxay states that the design "looks at first glance like a trolley car". Numismatic historian Walter Breen describes Gasparro's design as "an artistic disaster".
There was considerable public excitement over the "small date" and "large date" 1960 and 1960-D cents, with the small dates being the rarer. The Mint feared the interior of the zero as punched into the die would break away during the coining process, giving the zero a filled-in appearance. To reduce the chance of this happening, the Mint enlarged the date. Sealed bags of 1960 cents, with a face value of $50, sold for as much as $12,000. Prices for the small date coins, of which approximately two million had been struck at Philadelphia, continued to increase until 1964, when the bubble burst. Approximately 500 million of the Denver small date (out of a total mintage of 1.5 billion) were struck, and are not particularly rare. Bowers points out that there are enough of the 1960 Philadelphia small date known to supply every member of the American Numismatic Association, and every subscriber to the major coin periodicals.
In 1964, a rise in the price of silver led to silver coins being hoarded by the public. With change short, hoarding extended to the cent, which also became scarce in circulation. Mint Director Eva Adams felt that part of the reason for the shortage was coin collectors taking pieces from circulation, and Adams ordered that mintmarks no longer appear on coins. Coins continued to be dated 1964 until the end of 1965, using authority given by the Coinage Act of 1965, and almost all 1965 cents were actually struck in 1966. The Mint began striking clad dimes and quarters, replacing the silver pieces which the public would not spend. Although coinage had been stopped at San Francisco after 1955, the California facility began to issue cents again, though without mintmarks. In 1968, mintmarks were restored to the cent. San Francisco began minting a limited number of circulation strikes (which it would cease to do after 1974) and began striking proof coins.
Copper prices began to rise in 1973, to such an extent that the intrinsic value of the coin approached a cent, and citizens began to hoard cents, hoping to realize a profit. The Mint decided to switch to an aluminum cent. Over a million and a half such pieces were struck in the second half of 1973, though they were dated 1974. At congressional hearings, representatives of the vending machine industry testified that aluminum cents would jam their equipment, and the Mint backed away from its proposal. Mint director Mary Brooks sought the return of samples which had been distributed to members of Congress, but 14 remained missing, with the recipients affecting not to know what had become of them. One aluminum cent was donated to the Smithsonian Institution for the National Numismatic Collection; another was reportedly found by a US Capitol Police Officer.
In 1981, faced with another rise in the price of copper, the Mint decided to change the composition of the cent to copper-covered zinc. After contract difficulties and production delays, the first such cents were struck at the West Point Mint (without mintmark) on January 7, 1982. Denver did not convert to the new composition until October 21. A few pennies were struck by error in brass dated 1983 and are extremely rare. A number of small changes were made to the obverse design in the 1990s and early 2000s.
Lincoln Bicentennial cents (2009)
The Presidential $1 Coin Act of 2005 required that the cent's reverse be redesigned for 2009, and that four different designs for the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial be issued. The coins were to be emblematic of Lincoln's early life in Kentucky and in Indiana, of his professional life in Illinois, and of his presidency. Unveiled September 22, 2008, at a ceremony held at the Lincoln Memorial, these designs were:
Birth and early childhood in Kentucky: this design features a log cabin. It was designed by Richard Masters and sculpted by Jim Licaretz. This penny was released into circulation on Lincoln's 200th birthday, February 12, 2009, at a special ceremony at LaRue County High School in Hodgenville, Kentucky, Lincoln's birthplace.
Formative years in Indiana: this design features a young Lincoln reading while taking a break from rail splitting. It was designed and sculpted by Charles Vickers, and released on May 14, 2009.
Professional life in Illinois: this design features Lincoln as a young lawyer, standing before the Springfield Illinois State Capitol. It was designed by Joel Iskowitz and sculpted by Don Everhart. It was made available on August 13, 2009.
Presidency in Washington, D.C.: this design features the half completed Capitol dome. It was designed by Susan Gamble and sculpted by Joseph Menna. This fourth cent was released to the public on November 12, 2009.
The law also required that collector's sets, in the same alloy used in 1909, be sold to the public.
Union shield reverse 'Shield cent' (introduced 2010)
The Presidential $1 Coin Act required that the cent, beginning in 2010, "shall bear an image emblematic of President Lincoln's preservation of the United States of America as a single and united country". On April 16, 2009, the Commission of Fine Arts (CFA) met and recommended a design that showed 13 wheat sheaves bound together with a ring symbolizing American unity as one nation. Subsequently, this design was withdrawn because it was similar to coins issued in Germany in the 1920s. The Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee (CCAC) also met and recommended a design showing a Union shield with ONE CENT superimposed in a scroll; E pluribus unum was also depicted in the upper portion of the shield.
In June 2009 the CFA met again and this time selected a design featuring a modern rendition of the American flag. As a part of the release ceremony for the last of the 2009 cents on November 12, 2009, the design for the 2010 cent was announced. The design chosen was the Union shield, that was selected by the CCAC. According to the Mint, the 13 stripes on the shield "represent the states joined in one compact union to support the Federal government, represented by the horizontal bar above." The new reverse was designed by artist Lyndall Bass and sculpted by US Mint sculptor-engraver Joseph Menna. In January 2010, the coins were released early in Puerto Rico; this was prompted by a shortage of cents on the island. The Mint re-engraved the obverse, returning to the original 1909 galvano in preparing new dies. However, the Mint did not return to striking the pieces in the higher relief of 1909—the piece has long been struck in a much lower relief than the original pieces. Coins of the new design were officially released at a ceremony at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library in Springfield, Illinois, on February 11, 2010.
Photos courtesy of Coin HELP!
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