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The Linlcoln Cent

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Published on Jul 8, 2008

The United States one-cent coin is a unit of currency equaling one-hundredth of a United States dollar. Its symbol is: ¢. Its obverse has featured the profile of President Abraham Lincoln since 1909, the centennial of his birth. Since 1959 (the sesquicentennial of Lincoln's birth), the reverse has featured the Lincoln Memorial. The coin is .75 inches (19.05 mm) in diameter and .061 inches (1.55 mm) in thickness.

The one-cent coin is often called a penny, but the U.S. Mint's official name for this coin is cent.

In 1943, at the peak of World War II, cents of zinc-coated steel were made for a short time due to war demands for copper. A few copper cents from 1943 were produced from the 1942 planchets remaining in the bins. Similarly, some 1944 steel cents have been confirmed. From 1944 through 1946, salvaged ammunition shells made their way into the minting process, and it was not uncommon to see coins featuring streaks of brass or having a considerably darker finish than other issues.


1974 aluminum cent from the Smithsonian.During the early 1970s, the price of copper rose to a point where the cent almost contained more than one cent's worth of copper. This led the Mint to test alternate metals, including aluminum and bronze-clad steel. Aluminum was chosen, and over 1.5 million of these cents were struck and ready for public release before ultimately being rejected. The proposed aluminum cents were rejected due to two factors. Vending machine owners complained the coins would cause mechanical problems. Pediatricians and pediatric radiologists pointed out the radiodensity of the metal inside the respiratory and gastrointestinal tracts was close to that of soft tissue and therefore would be difficult to detect in a roentgenogram[1]. About a dozen aluminum cents are believed to still be in the hands of collectors,[2] although they are now considered illegal, and are subject to seizure by the Secret Service. One aluminum cent was donated to the Smithsonian Institution.

The cent's composition was changed in 1982 because the value of the copper in the coin started to rise above one cent.[citation needed] Some 1982 cents use the 97.5% zinc composition, while others used the 95% copper composition. The price of copper later returned to profitable levels.[citation needed]

Many people can hear the difference between the bronze and copper cents and the newer, zinc cents: simply flip the coin, giving it a good, solid strike. The predominantly copper pennies produce a ringing sound in the 12 kHz range. The zinc coins do not ring.[3]

Mintage figures for the Lincoln cent can be found here.

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