In celebration of Abraham Lincoln’s birthday (February 12) and President's Day (February 19), we’re taking a look back at the many faces of our nation’s first authorized coin.
The one-cent coin, or the penny, was the first currency authorized by the United States. According to pennies.org, “The first one-cent coin was struck in 1787 by a private mint. This coin, known as the Fugio cent, was 100 percent copper and this composition would continue until the mid-1800s. Paul Revere, a noted blacksmith, supplied some of the copper for one-cent coins minted during the early 1790s.”
The name “Fugio” comes from the inscription, which means “I flee/fly” in Latin. The back of the coin depicts thirteen unified rings to represent the 13 original colonies and the words “We Are One” in the center. This design had reportedly been suggested by Benjamin Franklin.
In 1856, the flying eagle cent was introduced. The coin was designed by Mint Chief Engraver James B. Longacre, with the eagle in flight based on the work of Longacre's predecessor, Christian Gobrecht. It was smaller than the Fugio cent and instead of 100 percent, this coin was 88 percent copper and 12 percent nickel.
The Indian Cent, or Indian Head Cent, created in 1859 depicted an Indian princess on the obverse. A popular story about its design claims a visiting Indian chief lent the designer's daughter his headdress so she could pose as the Indian princess. Most Indian cents minted during the Civil War went primarily to pay Union soldiers. After the Civil War, in 1864, the composition of the one-cent coin was changed to 95 percent copper and 5 percent zinc.
In 1909, Abraham Lincoln was the first historical figure to be featured on a U.S. coin when he was portrayed on the penny for his 100th birthday. The Lincoln penny was also the first coin to feature the phrase “In God We Trust.” Lincoln’s profile on the penny was designed by Victor David Brenner based off of an 1864 photograph of Abraham Lincoln.
In 2010, the back of the penny was redesigned again to feature a union shield. The design was selected by the CCAC. According to the Mint, the 13 stripes on the shield "represent the states joined in one compact union to support the Federal government, represented by the horizontal bar above." The new reverse was designed by artist Lyndall Bassand sculpted by U.S. Mint sculptor-engraver Joseph Menna.
For more fun with pennies, visit the Cinnaminson Library’s STEM cart to make your very own penny spinner!