Lincoln cents have been in circulation since 1909, and were the first coin minted by the United States to have a portrait. From 1909 to 1959, the back of the penny depicted two ears of wheat, and since 1959, it has depicted the Lincoln Memorial. While early versions of the one cent coin were made mostly of copper, modern coins are mostly zinc.
The official name given by the U.S. Mint to the smallest denomination of coin used is not the penny, but the Lincoln Cent.
The Lincoln cent was the first coin issued with a portrait, commemorating the 100th anniversary of Lincoln’s birthday. Victor David Brenner was handpicked by Theodore Roosevelt for the design, after Roosevelt saw a sculpture of Lincoln that Brenner had made.
The Lincoln penny has had two different reverse sides. The first side was two wheat stalks, identifying those coins as “wheat pennies.”And the other is the current image, the Lincoln Memorial, issued in 1959.
From 1909 until 1982, the Lincoln penny was 95 percent copper and 5 percent zinc and tin, with the exception of 1943, when they were made of steel coated with zinc. After 1982, the penny was switched to 97.5 percent zinc and 2.5 percent copper.
The true cost of a Lincoln penny depends on what year penny you have and what the metals are currently trading for on the commodity markets. A Lincoln penny composing of 97.5 percent zinc and 2.5 percent copper, actually is worth .0083 of a cent, according to a $3.41 per pound price for copper and a $1.18 price per pound of zinc, assuming that a single penny weighs .108 ounces.
On September 22, 2009, the U.S. Mint released four commemorative Lincoln pennies depicting images of Lincoln at different stages of his life: the log cabin in which he was born, Lincoln sitting on a log reading a book, Lincoln standing in front of the Illinois State Capitol Building, and the U.S. Capitol Building, with the dome in progress. These were minted to commemorate the 200th anniversary of Lincoln's birth and the 100th anniversary of the first Lincoln cent.
- Image by Flickr.com, courtesy of Tom Ahearn