The Mint coins a new phase

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By Steve Hendrix
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 15, 2010

You may have noticed a small change in your small change. More likely, you haven't.

"Now when did they do that?" asked Victor Schubert, a lawyer from Racine, Wis., squinting at a freshly minted 2010 penny. "And why?"

Schubert and other tourists on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial one recent afternoon were surprised to see a brand-new look to that most familiar of coins.

Gone from the Lincoln penny is the reproduction of the Lincoln Memorial, complete with really tiny seated Lincoln, that has been "tails" since 1959. In its place is a "Union Shield," a simple acorn of 13 stripes capped with the motto "E Pluribus Unum." On the "heads" side, the iconic profile of the 16th president by Victor David Brenner remains unchanged.

The U.S. Mint has been stamping out the new design since February; presses in Philadelphia and Denver have produced more than 3.6 billion of them. But officials said the down economy has made banks slow to request new coins. It will be years, they said, before shield pennies become as common as the tens of billions of Lincoln Memorial pennies filling sofa cracks and dresser tops across the country.

Mint spokesman Michael White said there have been few comments from the public about the new design, probably because few have spotted it.

"It's a phenomenon of notice - once you see one, they're everywhere," White said. "But you don't tend to examine your change unless you're a coin collector."

Most visitors to the Lincoln Memorial - where a huge mock-up of the old penny adorns the entrance to an exhibit hall - said they were sorry to see the memorial end its half-century run as the most common edifice in American pockets.

"This building has a lot of meaning for me," said Schubert, 73, who first came to Washington on a high school trip. Whenever he's here, he still makes time to walk up the steps to see the giant Lincoln. "I stood right by that column on the corner and looked out over this beautiful expanse and decided I wanted to become a lawyer. I'll miss seeing it on the penny."

Then Schubert paused to consider the scale of the change, literally. "Not that I look at pennies very much anyway," he said.

Janey Hockenhull, chaperoning a group of fifth-graders from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., said she doesn't like to see perfectly good coins get the flip, as it were.

"If something doesn't need changing, don't change it," she said. "What was wrong with the old penny?"


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