The Lincoln Cent has a fascinating history that relates to American history in general and numismatic history in particular. Issued since 1909, the coin has been a mainstay of American currency. Now, the U.S Mint is issuing three new cents that bear the West Point Mint’s “W” mint mark, the first of their kind! These pieces are sure to generate tremendous interest among collectors.
The Lincoln Cent’s relationship to American numismatic history ties in with the most highly regarded designer in American, and perhaps in all, numismatic history, Augustus Saint-Gaudens. The U.S Mint hired the Irish-born sculptor in 1905 to design four gold coins and a new cent. Two of the designs that he submitted for the penny, neither of them featuring Abraham Lincoln, were ultimately adapted for gold coins. Saint-Gaudens died two years after the Mint hired him without submitting additional designs for the one cent piece. The project remained undone for over a year after his death.
1909 marked the centennial anniversary of one of America’s most beloved presidents, so the U.S Mint asked Victor D. Brenner to design a new cent with his effigy. Brenner created the obverse design, which remains on the coin more than a century after its debut. It marked the first time that a president’s image had been struck on a widely circulating coin and marked a turning point in American numismatic history, as it is now more common than not for circulating U.S currency to bear the images of deceased presidents.
While the obverse of the Lincoln Cent is the longest running contiguous design in America’s circulated coinage, the coin’s reverse has undergone several changes. The first one took place before the coin’s debut. Brenner designed the reverse, which appeared from 1909-1958, with the words “ONE CENT” and “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA” between two ears of durum wheat. Brenner’s original design used a “V” for “VNITED,” but President Theodore Roosevelt, who had to approve the designs, required that the word be spelled with the conventional “U.” The historic difference originates from Latin, which does not have a “U” but used “V” as a vowel.
A new reverse by Frank Gasparro was introduced on the 150th anniversary of President Lincoln’s birth, February 12, 1959. The new design featured the Lincoln Memorial, the best-known standing tribute to America’s beloved leader. Gasparro is also known for the Eisenhower Dollar, the Susan B. Anthony Dollar, and the reverse of the Kennedy half Dollar.
The bicentennial of Lincoln’s birth met with the busiest time in the coin’s history. Four reverse designs had to be created for the year according to the Presidential $1 Coin Act of 2005. The designs depicted the President at various stages of his life. Richard Masters’s design, which came first, showed a log cabin, Lincoln’s famous boyhood home. Charles Vickers’s design came next, showing Lincoln reading during a break from rail splitting in Indiana. Joel Iskowitz created a design showing Lincoln standing at the Illinois State Capitol to represent his professional career, and Susan Gamble’s design of a half-finished Capitol Dome in Washington represented his presidency.
Perhaps the most fitting reverse design debuted in 2010 and has remained there since. Following Congress’s direction, the design “bear[s] an image emblematic of President Lincoln’s preservation of the United States of America as a single and united country.” The design, which was created by Lyndall Bass, features a union shield with the words “E PLURIBUS UNUM” (From many, one) at the top and a ribbon with the coin’s face value, “ONE CENT,” superimposed on it.
Throughout its century-plus history, the coin has been struck at all four of the current U.S Mints, Philadelphia, Denver, San Francisco, and West Point. Before 2019, it was only struck at West Point from 1974-1986. For those years, collectors could never determine which pieces were struck at West Point because, like their counterparts struck in Philadelphia, the coins did not have Mint marks.
This makes the 2019 US Mint Sets exciting for collectors. Three of the U.S Mint and Proof sets being released in 2019 will include the first ever Lincoln Cents to bear the iconic “W” Mint mark of the West Point Mint. Each of the three coins will have different finishes, and many collectors are sure to want all three to complete their collections of the inaugural West Point Mint “W” Mint mark or Lincoln Cents. The 2019 Proof Set will include a standard Proof 2019-W Lincoln Cent along with the usual 10 S-Proofs that would otherwise be in the set. This will be the first ever W Lincoln Cent ever released.
It will be followed with a second premium 2019-W Penny, the Reverse Proof 2019-W Lincoln Cent that comes with the Silver Proof Set, which was just released on April 17th. This second release will also bear the "W" Mint mark but will feature a lovely reverse proof cent. Again, the other coins will be struck in San Francisco and bear “S” mint marks. Finally, the 20-Coin Uncirculated Mint set, which includes 10 coins from the Denver Mint and 10 from the Philadelphia Mint will also include an Uncirculated 2019-W Lincoln Cent. All three releases give collectors the ability to add some exciting firsts to their collection, simply by purchasing the U.S Mint's annual sets.
This new Mint mark is particularly fitting given that West Point is home to the United States Military Academy, a symbol of the Nation’s power, history, and excellence. The United States would look very different today had it not been for the leader who kept the nation together. Now, the coin that honors that leader, will finally bear the Mint mark of the home of an institution that continues to keep the country he preserved, both strong and safe.
While the denomination is the smallest in modern American coinage, the history of the Lincoln Cent is anything but. The first ever widely circulated coin to bear the image of an American President has been used by Americans for over a century, a daily reminder of one of the country’s most trying times and the man who brought that country through them. Now, that coin is set to get some fresh new attention from American collectors.
Author Name: Sean McConeghy
Sean McConeghy is a freelance writer and network marketer living in Roatan, Honduras. He originally hails from New York and specializes in writing about numismatics, real estate, and politics.