Adam Starkey

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Lincoln Wheat Cents (1909 to 1958)

The Lincoln cent is an enduring American classic produced for over 112 years, making it the longest running United States coin design in existence, albeit with modification. In 1905, famed sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens was hired by the Mint at the request of President Roosevelt to beautify the nation’s coinage. Although Saint-Gaudens successfully redesigned the $10 and $20 gold pieces, he died in 1907 before he could submit designs for the new cent. Consequently, the Mint commissioned Victor D. Brenner in January of 1909 to design a one cent coin honoring Abraham Lincoln on the centennial of his birth. This marked the first widely circulating U.S. coin to feature the likeness of a President, as this concept had previously been considered too monarchical, particularly by George Washington. The obverse featured a bust of Lincoln, while the reverse depicted two stalks of wheat, representing staples of the U.S. economy, flanking the denomination. Brenner’s revolutionary wheat cent design was approved, and the new coins were released to the public on August 2nd, 1909 with much fanfare. Like the outgoing Indian cent, the new Lincoln cent was composed primarily of copper. However, due to copper shortages during World War II, the 1943 Lincoln Cent was struck in Zinc-plated steel as an emergency measure for one year only. The wheat reverse design was later replaced in 1959 with the Lincoln Memorial Cent to celebrate Lincoln’s 150th birthday. Since 2010, the reverse has featured a new depiction of the Union Shield, emblematic of President Lincoln's preservation of the United States as a single and unified country. Production of the Lincoln cent continues to this day, making it the longest running coin design in U.S. history.

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