Penny

Circulating Coins

Background

The “Union Shield” theme is the current design of the U.S. one-cent coin. The U.S. Mint first issued this design in 2010. The obverse (heads) shows the image of President Abraham Lincoln used on the penny since 1909. The shield on the reverse (tails) represents Lincoln’s preservation of the United States as a single country.

The penny was one of the first coins made by the U.S. Mint after its establishment in 1792. The design on the first penny was of a woman with flowing hair symbolizing liberty. The coin was larger and made of pure copper, while today’s smaller coin is made of copper and zinc.

Liberty stayed on the penny for more than 60 years. In 1857, the coin got smaller and the metal composition changed to 88% copper and 12% nickel. With these changes came new designs. In 1857 and 1858 the new coins featured a flying eagle on the obverse and a wreath on the reverse. The “Indian Head” design appeared from 1859 to 1909.

In 1909, Abraham Lincoln became the first president featured on our coins in honor of his 100th birthday. The Lincoln penny obverse showed the image of Lincoln designed by Victor David Brenner that is still used today. From 1909 to 1958 the reverse featured two sheaves of wheat. From 1959 to 2008, the reverse was an image of the Lincoln Memorial designed by Frank Gasparro to commemorate Lincoln’s 150th birthday.

In 2009, the Mint issued four different pennies throughout the year as part of the Lincoln Bicentennial One Cent Program. The program recognized Lincoln’s 200th birthday and the 100th anniversary of the first Lincoln cent. The themes on the reverses represented the four major aspects of Lincoln’s life.

Unusual Pennies:

  • In 1943, pennies were made of zinc-coated steel because copper was needed during World War II.
  • At the beginning of 1943, a limited number of copper pennies were struck by mistake.
  • In honor of the Mint’s 225th anniversary in 2017, pennies made in Philadelphia had a “P” mint mark for the first time.
  • In 2019, the West Point Mint made special collectible pennies with a “W” mint mark.

Other Circulating Coins:

Nickel | Dime | QuarterHalf Dollar | American Innovation $1 | Native American $1

 

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Characteristics

Obverse (heads): Shows the familiar likeness of President Lincoln featured since 1909.

Reverse (tails): First issued in 2010 and emblematic of Lincoln’s preservation of the United States as a single and united country. It features a union shield with 13 vertical stripes and our national motto in a horizontal bar above. A banner drapes across the front.

Obverse Inscriptions

  • LIBERTY
  • IN GOD WE TRUST
  • Year

Reverse Inscriptions

  • UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
  • ONE CENT

Mint and Mint Mark

Specifications

Composition Weight Diameter Thickness Edge No. of Reeds
Copper Plated Zinc
2.5% Cu
Balance Zn
2.500 g
0.750 in.
19.05 mm
1.52 mm Plain N/A

Artist Information

Obverse
  • Sculptor: Victor D. Brenner
Reverse
  • Sculptor: Joseph Menna, Sculptor-Engraver
  • Designer: Lyndall Bass
Content last reviewed October 7, 2019

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