By Ed O'Keefe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
As festivities marking the 200th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's birth continue, the U.S. Mint has released the first of four new Lincoln pennies that will go into circulation this year.
The pennies are unchanged on the "heads" side, but the "tails" image of the Lincoln Memorial is replaced by depictions tracing the life of the 16th president.
The first coin, nicknamed the "Kentucky Penny," features an image of the one-room log cabin where Lincoln was born on Feb. 12, 1809, near Hodgenville, Ky. The Mint said it has produced 245 million of these pennies at its Denver and Philadelphia facilities.
The second design, the "Indiana Penny," features an image of a young Lincoln taking a break from his work as an Indiana rail splitter. It will find its way into pockets and change purses starting May 14.
The "Illinois Penny," marking Lincoln's work as a state legislator, will start dropping into tip jars Aug. 13.
And the fourth penny, with an image of the unfinished U.S. Capitol dome, makes its debut Nov. 12. The unfinished dome symbolizes the nation torn apart by the Civil War and Lincoln's resolve to bring it back together.
The Mint has also produced 500,000 commemorative Lincoln silver dollars. Some of the proceeds from sales of the commemorative coins will go toward funding for the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission. Another Lincoln dollar, part of a series of gold-toned circulating coins honoring the presidents in the order in which they served, is set for release next year.
The new pennies represent the first redesign of the coin in 50 years. The Lincoln Memorial replaced two stalks of wheat as the reverse image in 1959.
The production of pennies has become increasingly costly for the U.S. Treasury. Because zinc and copper prices have soared in recent years, it now costs 1.4 cents to make the 1-cent coin. So far this year, 3.6 billion pennies have been minted -- $36 million worth of change costing $50.4 million to produce. Congress has considered changes in the metal content of coinage, including a suggestion that pennies be made of steel, a metal last used for the coin during World War II.