The first newly designed Lincoln cent in 50 years was officially launched into circulation Thursday morning at Abraham Lincoln’s birthplace in Hodgenville, Kentucky.
In total, four new circulating cents will be issued in 2009 to commemorate the 200th anniversary of Abe’s birth and the 100th anniversary of Lincoln cent first issued in 1909.
The first coin released Thursday depicts a log cabin, which represents Lincoln’s birth and early childhood in Kentucky.
"The new Lincoln cent is a milestone moment for the United States Mint and for our country," said United States Mint Deputy Director Andy Brunhart.
"The coin is a tribute to a humble man who rose to great heights living by principles of honesty, integrity and loyalty, principles that never go out of fashion.
More importantly, Americans will forever hold dear Lincoln’s legacy — an enduring Nation, united in the pursuit of equality for all."
The three remaining circulating cents will follow throughout 2009 at equal intervals, with each coin representative of a different period in Lincoln’s life: his formative years in Indiana, his professional life in Illinois and his Presidency in Washington, D.C. (See all 2009 Lincoln Penny Images.)
Thursday’s ceremonial launch was a momentous occasion for attending children. Mr. Brunhart and Kentucky Governor Steven L. Beshear handed each child a freshly minted cent that was designed by US Mint Artistic Infusion Program Master Designer Richard Masters and sculpted by US Mint Sculptor-Engraver Jim Licaretz. Adults present were able to exchange their money for new coins as well.
The rest of the public may be waiting some time before seeing new pennies in purses and pockets. It could take weeks or months for some local banks to start ordering and receiving the coins from the Federal Reserve.
With the current economic climate, the reported demand for pennies is down — people are exchanging their saved pennies for cash, not asking for them. Most banks carrying a large inventory of earlier-dated pennies will be less likely to order new coins until needed. (Read what a coin dealer giving away 1 million pennies did to get his new cents.)
95% copper cents struck for collectors
The first minted 1909 Lincoln cents were made from 95% copper and 5% tin and zinc. Metal costs increased through the years resulting in later cost-saving measures with the Mint changing the pennies’ composition to today’s less expensive copper-plated zinc — each cent is now struck from 99.2 percent zinc and 0.8% copper.
As part of the anniversary celebration this year, the Mint said Thursday it will issue collector versions of the bicentennial cents that contain the same metallic content as the 1909 coins. Collectors will have to wait, however, as the coins will only be minted in proof and uncirculated conditions, and will only be included in the United States Mint’s annual 2009 product offerings yet to be released.
In addition to new circulating cents, the Abraham Lincoln Commemorative Coin Act also authorizes up to 500,000 commemorative silver dollars.
Proof and uncirculated coins launch Thursday at 12:00 noon ET.