National One Cent Day
Explore the history of the smallest value US coin, from its origin in 1793 to the image of Abraham Lincoln we recognize today on National One Cent Day.
National One Cent Day is a day dedicated to the history and origins of the one cent coin, colloquially known as the penny. The one cent coin has been in circulation in the United States since 1793, but the modern image of the coin, bearing the face of American President Abraham Lincoln didn’t come into circulation until 1909. Previous to this date the coins bore the mark of a Native American in traditional head-dress. 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.
This was an auspicious day for the currency system of the USA, as prior to this no currency had ever borne the face of an actual person. This has created a long legacy of the appearance of people, primarily past presidents, on all sorts of American coinage. While the coins have undergone multiple changes throughout the years, one thing has remained consistent, Lincolns face has always maintained its place of honor on the American penny or “cent”.
The day of the coins release to the public, August 22nd 1909, was one of much speculation and interest among the public. The new coins design had not been released to the public, and so there was much conversation and debate about the appearance of the currency about to be released. Such was the level of interest that the Treasury facilities throughout the US had long lines form on that morning. Not anticipating the sheer amount of interest in the coin, those who were first in line were able to receive as many of them as they like, but as the day wore on, they had to be rationed out to the eager populace, each able to receive a mere 100 of the newly minted coins.
There was a bit of mayhem around these coins in the day to follow, with a penny going for as much as .25c among collectors and those who were eager to possess this fresh new coinage. Eventually this price came down to five cents, until finally the desire to obtain them waned and the coins settled into circulation.
For a short time, in 1943, the composition of the coin was changed to a zinc coated steel. There was a major call for copper during the war effort, and this resulted in the change from copper to steel. On the heels of the war, these coins were largely reclaimed and smelted back down, but some rare few still exist in circulation.
National One Cent Day is a great day to recall the history of this coin! You can celebrate by making small purchases only in pennies, putting coins in the ‘need a penny, take a penny, have a penny, leave a penny’ trays at stores, or if you’re feeling especially adventurous, pave an entire floor with pennies! If you’ve got a local casino, you could go and play penny slots! Whatever the case, National One Cent Day is the day to celebrate this coin and its long history.