There have been more than a dozen varieties of Lincoln-based coins in U.S. history, but the Lincoln Wheat Penny is one of the most prominent ones. They’re definitely a collector’s must-have, but often some collectors have no accurate measure of how truly iconic this piece is. So let’s dive right in with some of its significant history.
Before we get to history, let’s dwell a bit on the motivation driving the inception of Lincoln pennies in the first place. Believe it or not, the usage of an actual person's image, whether alive or deceased, on a circulating coin in America was deemed tasteless. It was seen as a form of exclusion by the widely diverse nature of American heritage.
As a frame of reference, the only one to ever be displayed on U.S. coinage was Lady Liberty, and she was a personification of a symbol, not an actual human. Despite that, the icon of President Abraham Lincoln was already largely beloved at the turn of the 20th century, and the notion to feature Lincoln's image on the American pence was conceived when President Roosevelt saw Lincoln’s sculptor, Victor David Brenner's bronze plaque.
The Choice Of Artist
For both the U.S. Mint employees and artist Brenner, the Lincoln penny design process was somewhat tricky. Charles Barber, the U.S. Mint Chief Engraver, was reluctant for different reasons to collaborate with artists who haven’t worked on coins before. Since Brenner had only produced medals and never designed any coins for mass circulation, it took several design changes before the desired result was met. Brenner wanted a complex coin, but Barber needed a workable style that wouldn't wear the coin but would still be good for both sides of the coin. Ultimately, it was determined to lower the orientation of the Lincoln torso so that his face appeared more towards the middle of the coin. This move provided a great deal of room at the top of the coin.
The Lincoln Cent was minted in 1909 and it is one of the last withstanding coin designs ever made by the U.S. Mint at the Philadelphia, Denver, and San Francisco Mints. Their mint marks are on the obverse of the coin below the date. However, all coins made at Philadelphia Mint did not feature a mint mark. Throughout history, the obverse has remained the same, while the reverse varied from 1958 to 1989. In 2009, the penny reached its 100th anniversary. To commemorate this, the U.S. government authorized four special anniversary editions of the Lincoln Wheat Penny made.
From Copper to… Zinc
Over the years, the composition of the Lincoln Penny has also changed. Initially, from 1909 to 1981, the Lincoln Penny was made mainly of copper. In the year 1943, an interesting thing happened. Due to the overwhelming outbreak of expenses during WWII, the U.S. government authorized the U.S. Mint to manufacture coins out of steel, producing a coin in 1943 with a silver-colored tint. The key dates in the Lincoln Wheat Penny series include the 1909 S, 1909 S VDB, 1915 D, 1922 plain, and 1931 S. Furthermore, in 1982, the cent changed to its current composition of mostly zinc, due to the copper crisis.
- The first year the penny was minted, the designer decided to put his initials on the back of the coin near the rim VDB. He, however, was not authorized to do so. Consequently, the design was altered midway through production. This created the rarest coin ever made in the Lincoln Penny series, a 1909 S VDB.
- The coins were made of reused shell cases between 1944 and 1946, whose bronze composition was virtually similar to the initial issues, excluding tin.
Undoubtedly, the Lincoln Wheat Pennies are of the most iconic and impactful coins that were ever made in U.S. history. They are widely admired and constantly wanted by collectors and numismatics alike. At The Franklin Mint, we feature a desirable variety of Lincoln penny collections and products, found exclusively at our website.