What does Benjamin Franklin, the phrase “mind your business” and April 1 all have in common? The answer is the penny, which we recognize on National One Cent Day.
The United States first issued a one-cent coin produced by a private mint in 1787. It was designed by Benjamin Franklin. On one side it read “Mind Your Business” and the other “We Are One.” This coin was made of 100% copper was larger than today’s penny and came to be known as the Fugio cent.
- It wasn’t until 1792 that the United States Mint was first created. The first coins struck by the newly established mint were called Chain cents, or Flowing Hair Chain Cents by collectors today. On one side of the was coin a circle of 13 links of chain representing the 13 colonies. On the reverse was an image of a woman with flowing hair, otherwise known as Liberty.
- The Mint produced its first circulating coins—all $111.78 worth of them—in March 1793. That first batch consisted of 11,178 copper cents. Soon after, the Mint began issuing gold and silver coins as well.
- The one cent coin was reduced in size in the 1850’s to make the coin more economical and easier to handle.
- In 1856, the mint produced the Flying Eagle cent with a wreath on the reverse side.
- This coin was soon replaced with the Indian Head cent in 1859 which quickly became popular and remained in circulation for decades.
- Today’s one cent coin is made of copper and zinc and has borne the image of President Abraham Lincoln since 1909.
- From 1959 to 2008, the reverse featured the Lincoln Memorial. Four different reverse designs in 2009 honored Lincoln’s 200th birthday depicting various scenes from his lifetime and a new, permanent reverse – the Union Shield – was introduced in 2010.
- The name “penny” is a colloquialism derived from the English penny, though it is pluralized to “pennies” in the US, rather than the British “Pence”.
- The image of Lincoln on the coins came to pass as part of a decision made by President Roosevelt to increase the artistic merit of the American currency system. To accomplish this goal he brought on a sculptor by the name of Augustus Saint-Gaudens, to redesign the existing American coinage. His first projects were to change the designs of the one cent piece, as well as the four gold pieces in circulation at the time.
- It costs around 1.5 cents to make a penny today. While the cost of making a one-cent coin had fallen dramatically in 1982 after it was first made from primarily zinc, metal prices have risen so in the last 30 years that it again is cost-ineffective to strike the penny as it is made now. Multiple efforts to to abolish pennies in the U.S. — like what happened in Canada in 2012 — have been sidelined by some opposition on Capitol Hill.
- The one-cent pieces stamped with President Abraham Lincoln’s profile don’t get a lot of respect. In fact, 56% of coin experts think the penny will be phased out of circulation by 2026, according to a 2015 survey, which noted the U.S. Mint currently loses more than $50 million a year on pennies due to rising metal prices pushing the cost of making the mostly zinc coins to about 1.5 cents apiece. Groups like the Americans for Common Cents, on the other hand, advocate for the penny’s economic, cultural and historical significance.
- A recent poll by Opinion Research Corporation found that more than 70% of Americans support keeping the penny in circulation. (NOTE: elimination of the penny would lead to higher prices, since prices would then be rounded to the nearest 5 cents.)
- While the Mint struck more than one billion steel cents during WWII (and these are the only U.S. coins that are attracted to magnets), a handful were accidentally struck from bronze. These rare 1943 bronze cents are worth about $100,000 apiece today.
- If you want to collect pennies, there is one year you’ll never see on an authentic U.S. one-cent coin: 1815. That’s because we used to get the copper for them from an English supplier, but the War of 1812 that pitted us against the U.K. stopped those shipments. The Mint ran out of copper in late 1814, and by the time shipments resumed in late 1815, it was too late to mint pennies with 1815 on them.
- The average penny lasts 25 years!
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