– From the day it first appeared in 1909, the Lincoln cent has been an extremely popular coin. Newspapers heralded the release of the new coin and the public responded with unprecedented excitement. The coin represented a step into the modern age for circulating U.S. coinage.
The first coin to honor a great American leader
For more than a hundred years, America’s circulating coin designs had held to a tradition of depicting representations of Liberty on the obverse. However, by the 1909 centennial of Abraham Lincoln’s birth, the idea of honoring an actual person had gained acceptance. So, the Lincoln cent became the first regular-issue U.S. coin to depict an actual person, rather than an allegorical figure.
When the Lincoln cent was released in August 1909, no one was prepared for the level of public demand. People formed long lines at banks and sub-treasury offices in their eagerness to get the new coins. And, even though the distribution points limited the number available to each person, signs soon appeared to announce “no more Lincoln pennies.”
Designer Victor David Brenner and his infamous initials
Almost every coin collector knows about the controversy surrounding the initials of Victor David Brenner, designer of the Lincoln cent. After the Lincoln cent’s debut, journalists seized upon his initials on the reverse – V.D.B. – as egotism on the designer’s part. The prominence of the initials was widely criticized in the media. So, just days after the coin’s release, production was halted and new coins, minus the V.D.B., were released.
Errors & varieties create collector excitement
Over the course of the last century, several have come out of the Lincoln cent series. Collector favorites include the 1955 Doubled Die Obverse and the 1922 Plain cent (struck at the Denver Mint without a mint mark). Large- and Small-Date varieties were issued in 1960, 1970 and 1982.
Reverse designs spanning more than a century
Brenner’s original reverse design featured a simple, yet bold inscription of one cent, framed by two stylized ears of wheat. The “Wheatie” reverse was used through 1958. Then, in 1959 for the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s birth (and the 50th anniversary of the Lincoln cent) it was decided to redesign the reverse. The new design, used until 2009, featured the Lincoln Memorial.
In 2009, to celebrate both the bicentennial of Lincoln’s birth and 100 years of the Lincoln cent, the U.S. Mint issued four new reverse designs representing four major stages of the 16th president’s life. The unique reverses honored Lincoln’s birthplace, formative years, professional life and presidency. Then, in 2010, a new ongoing reverse was issued featuring the Union Shield.
Special mint mark issues
More recently, special mint marks have been adorning the Lincoln cent. In 2017, to honor the 225th anniversary of the U.S. Mint, the Philadelphia Mint struck cents with a “P” mint mark. This was a first – past Lincoln cents from Philadelphia bore no mint mark. And in 2019, in celebration of the 110th anniversary of the Lincoln cent, three unique, special-issue “W” mint mark cents were issued by the West Point Mint.
If you’d like to keep track of your collection, we recommend using our handy online checklist. And, to teach the younger generation more about the beloved Lincoln cent, we’ve created a lesson plan and collecting card for you!