United States currency/1¢

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The United States one-cent coin (penny) is a unit of currency equaling 1/100th of a United States dollar. Its obverse has featured the profile of President Abraham Lincoln since 1909, the centennial of his birth. Since 1959 (the sesquicentennial of Lincoln's birth), the reverse has featured the Lincoln Memorial. The coin is .75 inches (19.05 mm) in diameter and .061 inches (1.55 mm) in thickness.

The one-cent coin is often called a "penny", but the U.S. Mint's official name for this coin is "cent".

1¢ of the United States of America[edit | edit source]

Value: USD $0.01

  • Mass: 2.5g
  • Diameter: 19.05 mm (0.750in.)
  • Thickness: 1.55mm (0.061in)

  • Edge: Plain
  • Composition: Copper-plated Zinc → 97.5% Zn, 2.5% Cu

  • Years of Minting: 1909-


  • Design: Abraham Lincoln
  • Designer: Victor D. Brenner
  • Design Date: 1909


  • Design: Lincoln Memorial
  • Designer: Frank Gasparro
  • Design Date: 1959

History of composition[edit | edit source]

  • 1793–1837 Copper
  • 1837–1857 Bronze (95% copper, 5% tin and zinc)
  • 1857–1864 87.5% copper, 12.5% nickel (also known as NS-12)
  • 1864–1942 Bronze (95% copper, 5% tin and zinc)
  • 1943 Zinc-coated steel
  • 1944–1946 Brass (95% copper, 5% zinc)
  • 1946–1962 Bronze (95% copper, 5% tin and zinc)
  • 1962–1982 Brass (95% copper, 5% zinc)
  • 1982– present 97.5% zinc core, 2.5% copper plating

In 1943, at the peak of World War II, cents of zinc-coated steel were made for a short time due to war demands for copper. A few copper cents from 1943 were produced from the 1942 planchets remaining in the bins. Similarly, some 1944 steel cents have been confirmed. From 1944 through 1946, salvaged ammunition shells made their way into the minting process, and it was not uncommon to see coins featuring streaks of brass or having a considerably darker finish than other issues.

During the early 1970s, the price of copper rose to a point where the cent almost contained more than one cent's worth of copper. This led the Mint to test alternate metals, including aluminum and bronze-clad steel. Aluminum was chosen, and over 1.5 million of these cents were struck and ready for public release before ultimately being rejected. About a dozen aluminum cents are believed to still be in the hands of collectors, although they are now considered illegal, and are subject to seizure by the Secret Service. One aluminum cent was donated to the Smithsonian Institution.

The cent's composition was changed in 1982 because the value of the copper in the coin started to rise above one cent. Some 1982 cents use the 97.5% zinc composition, while others used the 95% copper composition. The price of copper later returned to profitable levels.

"A Penny for Your Thoughts, and 1.4 Cents for the Penny", New York Times, April 22, 2006. Retrieved on May 26, 2007. to produce each cent in addition to the cost of the metal content. Presumably with the rapid rise in price for zinc, the US Mint will have to find another alternative. However, it is Congress that determines the denomination and content of coins that the Mint must produce and put into circulation. As the United States Mint produces only the coins that Congress mandates, it does not have the authority to alter or abolish a unit of currency. If directed to do so by legislation enacted by the Congress and signed by the President, the Treasury Department would again study changing or phasing out the cent. Because the demand exists and the Federal Reserve Banks require inventories to meet the demand, the United States Mint is currently committed to producing the cent at a loss.

Many people can hear the difference between the bronze and copper cents and the newer, zinc cents: simply flip the coin, giving it a good, solid strike. The predominantly copper pennies produce a ringing sound in the 12 kHz range. The zinc coins do not ring.

Designs[edit | edit source]

The coin has gone through several designs over its 200-year history. Until 1857 it was about the size of the current half-dollar coin.

The following types have been produced:

Large Cents:[edit | edit source]

Flowing Hair Chain[edit | edit source]

The Chain cent was America's first large cent and the first coin officially produced by the United States Mint. It was struck only during 1793.

Obverse Design[edit | edit source]

The obverse design consisted of a stylized Liberty head with flowing hair. The inscription "LIBERTY" appeared above the portrait, and the date below. The design was rather sparse and empty compared to those that would come later.

Reverse Design[edit | edit source]

The reverse's central design figure, for which the coin is named, is an interlocking chain with 15 links, representing the 15 American states in existence at that time. Both the words "ONE CENT" and the fraction "1/100" appear within the chain. Along the outer edge is inscribed "UNITED STATES OF AMERICA". On the first working die, the engraver failed to allow adequate room for the entire inscription, and it had to be abbreviated to "UNITED STATES OF AMERI.". These early dies were cut by hand, rather than being made from master hubs as is the practice today.

Edge[edit | edit source]

The edge of these coins is decorated with bars and vines with leaves.

Public Reaction[edit | edit source]

Chain cents were struck during late February and early March 1793; records indicate that approximately 36,103 were produced. However, the public reaction to the coins was largely negative. One newspaper criticized the appearance of the Liberty head, saying that it appeared to be "in a fright". And, while the reverse chain had been intended to symbolise the togetherness of the newly formed Union, many commentators instead interpreted it as representative of slavery. By March, the Mint had run out of planchets, which temporarily halted striking. During this time, a new design – the Wreath cent – was quickly prepared and approved.

Flowing Hair Wreath[edit | edit source]

The Wreath cent was an American large cent. It was the second design type, following the Chain cent in 1793. It was produced only during that year.

Obverse Design[edit | edit source]

The obverse design consisted of a stylized Liberty head with flowing hair. The inscription "LIBERTY" appeared above the portrait. Below it was a three-leaved sprig and the date. The design of the Liberty head was modified somewhat from that of the Chain cent to address public criticism.

Reverse Design[edit | edit source]

The reverse's central design figure, for which the coin is named, was a wreath. The words "ONE CENT" appeared within the wreath, and the corresponding fraction "1/100" appeared beneath it. Along the outer edge was inscribed "UNITED STATES OF AMERICA". A decorative beaded border was added along the rim.

Varieties[edit | edit source]

Approximately 63,353 Wreath cents were struck. Early specimens featured a stylized "vine/bars" design on the edges of the planchet, which was identical to that of the earlier Chain cent. Later on, this was changed to a lettered edge reading "ONE HUNDRED FOR A DOLLAR". Early American copper collectors generally categorize the coins still further into thirteen different varieties under the Sheldon system. Most of these variations entail relatively minor changes, and often require careful examination to discern. One variety, however, is far more recognizable: the "Strawberry Leaf". On these strikings, the trefoil sprig above the date took the form of a strawberry plant. Only four such specimens are known, and all are heavily circulated. The finest known Strawberry Leaf cent sold at auction for $414,000 in November 2004.

  • Liberty Cap (1793–1796)
  • Draped Bust (1796–1807)
  • Classic Head (1808–1814)
  • Coronet (1816–1839
  • Braided Hair (1839–1857)

Small Cents[edit | edit source]

Flying Eagle[edit | edit source]

The Flying Eagle cent is a United States coin that was minted from 1857 to 1858. The coin was designed by James B. Longacre. The Flying Eagle was the first small-sized cent coin minted in the US, replacing the earlier large cent. The obverse of the coin depicts an eagle in flight, a unique subject for the obverse of American coins. The reverse of the coin has the words ONE CENT surrounded by a wreath, similar to the reverse on the later Indian Head cent. The United States Mint in Philadelphia struck between 1000 and 2000 Flying Eagle cents in 1856 as pattern pieces, a way to show influential Congressmen and Senators what these coins would look like. These 1856 Flying Eagle Cents were supposed to have been returned to the Mint and destroyed as they had not been intended for release to the public, but some managed to escape destruction. The 1856 coins are quite rare and valuable. In 1858, there was a "large letter" and "small letter" variety produced, with different punches used to letter "United States of America" on two sets of dies. An easy way to tell the difference between large-letter and small-letter varieties is to look at the word 'America'. In the large letter variety, the letters A and M are joined, whereas in the small letter they are not.

Both the Flying Eagle Cent and Indian Head cents minted from 1859 to 1864 were struck in an alloy of 88% copper and 12% nickel, giving the coins a much whiter sheen than contemporary one-cent pieces. The nickel five-cent coin would not begin production until 1866, and so these nickel-alloy one-cent pieces were slangily known as "nickels".

The early demise of the series was the result of two things. First of all, two high points of the coin were in the same area on each side of the coin, so that when they were struck, it caused a weakness in strike on those points. The second thing was that Longacre could not carve out the dies properly, as he was mostly a painter, not a sculptor.

Indian Head[edit | edit source]

The Indian Head one-cent coin also known as an Indian Penny was produced by the United States Mint from 1859 to 1909. It was designed by James Barton Longacre, the engraver at the Philadelphia Mint.

The obverse of the coin shows "UNITED STATES OF AMERICA", the head of a Native American wearing a feather head dress, and the year of production. The word "LIBERTY" appears on the band of the head dress. Though not mentioned in the Treasury's modern-day records, the use of "LIBERTY" on the head dress at that time meant the figure was Liberty depicted as a Native American; nearly all regular coins at that time depicted Liberty. The same concept was used nearly 150 years later for the Sacagawea dollar, since there are no known portraits of Sacagawea.

The coin's reverse side shows "ONE CENT" within an oak wreath (a laurel wreath before 1860), with three arrows inserted under the ribbon that binds the two branches of the wreath. Between the ends of the branches is the shield of the United States (which was not in the original design and did not appear on the coin until 1860).

Composition[edit | edit source]

The coins struck between 1859 and 1864 contained 88% copper and 12% nickel, as required by law. In 1864, the alloy changed to 95% copper and 5% tin and zinc, and the weight of the coins was reduced from 72 grains to 48 grains. (This weight continued for copper-alloy U.S. cents until the 1982 introduction of the current copper-plated zinc cent, which weighs 38.6 grains, or 2.5g, with the exception of 1943.) Research in 1863 had indicated that bronze was an excellent alloy for minor coins, and so the copper-nickel alloy was discontinued. Another possible contributing factor for the alloy change was the whitish color of the early cents, which combined with their size was enough to confuse many merchants into thinking they were dimes, much as more recent cashiers shunned the Susan B. Anthony dollar coin (minted 1979-1981 and again in 1999) for having dimensions and appearance similar to a quarter.

In any event, total production of the Indian Head cent was 1,849,648,000 pieces. The 1909-S had the lowest mintage, only 309,000. It is not considered as scarce as the 1877 issue, (852,500), since fewer of those were kept, particularly in the higher grades.

History[edit | edit source]

The Director of the Mint, James Ross Snowden, wrote a letter on November 4, 1858, to Secretary of the Treasury Howell Cobb, suggesting that a change be made in the design of the Flying Eagle cent. He pointed out that the relief of that coin was too high, and that the design did not seem too acceptable to the public. Snowden submitted models for a new design, and Secretary Cobb gave his approval to what later became the Indian Head Cent.

According to records at the United States Mint, the design of the Indian Head cent became official on January 1, 1859, and was first released into circulation early that year. When the coin was first produced, Longacre's initials did not appear on the coin, but beginning in 1864, a small "L" was added to the ribbon of the headress, thus making two varieties for that year.

There is a popular rumor about the design of this coin, which states that Mr. Longacre used his daughter Sarah as his model for the Indian likeness on the cent. Unfortunately, this information has not been authenticated in United States Mint files.

Indian Head cents were hoarded during the Civil War, which prompted the minting and usage of Civil War tokens by private merchants and citizens. In response, the metal content of the cent was changed from a copper-nickel alloy to one of almost pure copper in 1864.

Except for a minor design change in 1886 the series continued without major varieties from 1859 to 1909. There is a slight variation in date design in 1873, and a well known overdate (1869 over 68). Most dates are available in lower grades for relatively low cost, and are quite cheap from the 1880s on.

Production[edit | edit source]

Initially, the production of the five-cent nickel and the one-cent bronze coin was limited by law to the Philadelphia Mint. An Act of Congress passed on April 24, 1906, provided for the making of these denominations at other Mint facilities.

The manufacture of the Indian Head cent at the San Francisco Mint in November 1908 marked the first time this denomination of coins was minted outside of Philadelphia. These San Francisco-minted Indian Head Cents bear the "S" mint mark beneath the ribbon of the wreath on the reverse. One-cent coin production did not begin at the Denver Mint until 1911, during the third year of the Lincoln cent design.

Lincoln Wheat Ears[edit | edit source]

The Lincoln Wheat Ears Cent (sometimes referred to as a Wheat penny, a Wheatback, a Wheat Head, or a Wheatie) was a United States one-cent coin produced from 1909 to 1958.

Both the obverse and the reverse were designed by Victor David Brenner, a New York sculptor. Brenner's initials, V.D.B., were included on the reverse of the coin below the two stylized wheat stalks on a limited number of the coins until public controversy forced their removal. Brenner's initials were restored to the obverse, below Lincoln's shoulder, in 1918.

One of the more valuable coins to collectors is the 1909 San Francisco, California-minted "VDB" cent, so-named because the designer's initials were included between the stalks of wheat on the lower reverse side; only 484,000 were produced before the public outcry at the designer's initials being so prominently displayed. Even poor-quality examples of the 1909-S VDB coin bring hundreds of dollars and a high-grade mint condition example can sell for $6,000 to $12,000 or more. By contrast, the Philadelphia mint produced nearly 28 million examples of the 1909 VDB cent and such coins are far less valuable. The other key date of the series is the 1914-D, with a mintage of just under 1.2 million. Uncirculated examples have auctioned for over $26,000.

The only other wheat cents to command prices on par with the 1909-S VDB and 1914-D are both error coins: the 1922 "plain" ($5500 for uncirculated specimens), the result of a filled die, and the 1955 doubled die ($1000+ for uncirculated specimens).

In 1959, to commemorate the sesquicentennial of Lincoln's birth, the wheat ears on the reverse of the coin were replaced with a rendering of the Lincoln Memorial by Frank Gasparro.

Specifications[edit | edit source]

Bronze (1909–1942)

  • Composition: 95% Copper, 5% Tin and Zinc
  • Diameter: 19mm
  • Weight: 3.11g
  • Edge: Plain

Zinc-plated steel (1943)

  • Composition: 100% Steel plated with Zinc
  • Diameter: 19mm
  • Weight: 2.70g
  • Edge: Plain

"Shell casing" Bronze (1944–1945)

  • Composition: 95% Copper and 5% Zinc
  • Diameter: 19mm
  • Weight: 2.70g
  • Edge: Plain

Bronze (1946–1958)

  • Composition: 95% Copper, 5% Tin and Zinc
  • Diameter: 19mm
  • Weight: 3.11g
  • Edge: Plain
Circulation Status[edit | edit source]

As of 2007, most wheat cents are currently held in private collections and by dealers, often in bulk quantity. However, since the vast majority of wheat cents are only worth ten cents or less, an occasional wheat is still sometimes found in circulation, with a ratio of approximately 1 to 300 cents. This is due to the popularity of bulk coin counting machines such as Coinstar or at a bank, where the wheat cents may had been saved over the years with Lincoln Memorial cents, stored away for sometime, then discovered years later and deposited for cash. An occasional 1943 steel cent is sometimes found in the reject area of a coin counting machine as well.

  • Lincoln Memorial (1959–2008)

Throughout its history, the Lincoln cent has featured several fonts for the date, but most of the digits have been old-style numerals, except with the 4 and 8 neither ascending nor descending. The only significant divergence is that the 3 was non-descending (the same size as a 0, 1, or 2) in the early history, before switching to descending for one year in 1934 and then permanently (as of 2004) in 1943.

The Lincoln Memorial is shown on the reverse of the United States cent. In his treatise Theory and Practise of Numismatic Design, Steve Crooks states that because the Lincoln Memorial is shown in sufficient detail to discern the statue of Lincoln on the reverse of the cent, Abraham Lincoln was the only person to be depicted on both the obverse and reverse of the same United States coin, up until the release of New Jersey state quarter in 1999, which depicts George Washington crossing the Delaware River on the reverse side.

Redesign[edit | edit source]

In 2009 the cent will get a one-year, four-coin commemorative program marking the 100th anniversary of Lincoln being placed on the cent, and the 200th anniversary of his birth. Thus, 2008 will be the 49th anniversary, and last year that the Lincoln Memorial will be on the U.S penny. This redesign was passed as part of the Presidential $1 Coin Act of 2005, which also mandates that in 2009, numismatic cents will be issued for collectors that have the metallic copper content of cents minted in 1909. In 2010, the cent will be completely redesigned, with a new, permanent design being released into circulation. Lincoln, however, will remain on the coin. The composition for circulating issues will be copper-plated zinc.

Numismatics[edit | edit source]

Various commentators have suggested that the cent should be eliminated as a unit of currency for several reasons including that many Americans do not actually spend them, but rather only receive them in change at stores and proceed to return them to a bank for higher denomination currencies. Most modern vending machines do not accept cents, further diminishing their utility, and the production cost now exceeds the face value of the coin due to increasing metal prices. In 2001 and 2006, for example, United States Representative Jim Kolbe (R) of Arizona introduced bills which would have stopped production of cents (in 2001 the Legal Tender Modernization Act, and in 2006 the Currency Overhaul for an Industrious Nation (COIN) Act).

As of December 14, 2007, the price of copper is $2.9177 per pound and zinc is $1.0529 per pound. At these prices, the pre-1982 copper cent contains 1.9313 us cents which is a 1.9313 premium face value cents worth of copper zinc alloy, which makes them an attractive target for melting by people wanting to sell the metal at a profit. However, the United States Mint, in anticipation of this practice, implemented new regulations on December 14, 2006 which criminalize the melting of cents and nickels and place limits on export of the coins. Violators can be punished with a fine of up to 10 000 USD and/or imprisoned for a maximum of five years.

In April 2006, the copper-plated zinc cent contains 0.8 cents worth of metal. However, the mint spends about 0.6 cents.

As of February 2, 2008, as of www.kitcometals.com the price of a pound of copper is $3.2634 USD per pound or 7000 grain weight and the price of zinc is $1.1064 USD per pound or 7000 grainweight. At the 2.5 grams per penny cent $0.01 USD token coin, this equals $0.000449660342 USD in copper content of 2.5% of the 2.5 grams total weight and $0.00594553654 USD in zinc content of 97.5% of the 2.5 grams total weight. This totals $0.06639519686 USD metal content per us penny $0.01 token piece which is 0.639519686 or around 64% metal content value for the face value of the 1 US cent coin, these are for coins from 1982 to the present.

For us cent coins 1962 to 1982 is brass (95% copper, 5% zinc) and 1946 to 1962 us pennies cent pieces are bronze 95% copper, 5% tin and zinc which makes them more valuable in metal content than the 1962 to 1982 pieces as tin is on www.metalprices.com at $7.6703 USD per pound of 7000 grain weight where at www.kitcometals.com the price of zinc is $1.1064 USD per pound 7000 grain weight. The 1962 to 1982 brass us penny cent token piece is 2.5*.95 = 2.375 grams or 0.00523597873 pounds * $3.2634 USD per pound 7000 grain weight copper = $0.017087093 USD copper and 2.5*.05 = 0.125 grams or 0.000275577828 pounds * $1.1064 per zinc pound = $0.000304899309 USD zinc content. Therefore $0.017087093 + $0.000304899309 = $0.0173919923 USD per us cent piece 1962 to 1982 or around 74% over face value in metal content.