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Did You Know That the Lincoln Cent Entered Production This Week in 1909?

On June 10, 1909, 115 years ago this week, the Philadelphia Mint commenced production of the Lincoln cent, inaugurating the longest-serving U.S. coin obverse design. The issue may be best remembered for Victor David Brenner’s large initials on the reverse that invited a fracas resulting in a nine-year omission of his initials. However, it was also the culmination of an interesting between the Lithuanian-born sculptor and President Theodore Roosevelt and was part of the Renaissance of American Coinage.

The Lincoln cent was not Brenner’s first depiction of Lincoln, as through the first decade of the 20th century, Brenner designed both medals and plaques depicting the 16th president. Brenner was selected to design a medal honoring Panama Canal workers that would feature a profile of President Roosevelt. As related in David Lange’s 2005 Complete Guide to Lincoln Cents, during a sitting for the medal in 1908: “The President’s attention was drawn to a plaque by Brenner featuring a profile bust of Abraham Lincon…. It’s not certain which party suggested the transformation of this portrait into a coin, but with the centennial of Lincoln’s birth approaching in 1909 it seemed a worthy scheme.” Lange reiterates Don Taxay’s attribution of the inspiration for the use of a Lincoln Bust on the cent to Brenner. The plaque presented to Roosevelt, which served as a model for the cent bust, was created by Brenner in 1907.

Brenner developed the design from late 1908 into early 1909, offering alternatives (some of which bore a very clear resemblance to Louis-Oscar Roty’s Sower motif then in use in French coins), including for a nickel, all of which were turned down. Brenner paired his bust of Lincoln with a simple reverse design on which the denomination and “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA” are flanked by a pair of wheat ears. His initials between the wheat ears are very prominent on the early 1909 Lincoln cents, causing the situation noted above and an extremely popular coin variety.

Brenner and the Mint staff went back and forth modifying the designs over the winter and spring of 1909, with the new cent going into production at the Philadelphia Mint on June 10.  

Readers can learn more about Lincoln cents at Stack’s Bowers Galleries’ Coin Resource Center.

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