Any photos not otherwise credited are from the personal collection of Frank Passic, Albion Historian.
By Frank Passic
The year 2009 marks a couple of significant anniversaries in American history. It marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of our 16th President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865), and it also is the 100th anniversary of the first minting (1909) of the 1¢ coin (commonly referred to as the “penny”) bearing his image.
How many of our readers tried to assemble a coin collection when they were growing up? Most likely, the Lincoln cent was the first denomination you tried to collect. You probably purchased a blue-colored cardboard Whitman coin folder, which contained holes to put the coins in, printed with various dates and mintmarks. Some cents were easy to find in circulation, while others weren’t so easy. You soon discovered that those cents with the letter/mintmark “S,” (under the date) for San Francisco, were generally the harder ones to find. By the way, the technical name for a coin collector is a numismatist.
There is an interesting story concerning the origin of the Lincoln cent. The Lincoln cent was designed by an immigrant to the U.S., Victor David Brenner (1871-1924). He was born and raised in Siauliai, Lithuania. Brenner was an engraver by trade. He arrived in America at the age of 20 at the port of New York on May 17, 1890 on the ship Gellert, under the name of David Brenner. He became a naturalized U.S. citizen on April 27, 1896.
Brenner spent his first few years in America as a watch repairman and jewelry engraver, honing his skills. His artistic talent was soon recognized, and Brenner took art classes to increase his abilities. As a sculptor, Victor began producing medals and plaques. One of them was a rectangular plaque dated 1907 which bore the bust of President Abraham Lincoln.
In 1908, President Theodore Roosevelt was in Brenner’s New York studio posing for the Panama Canal service medal that Brenner was designing bearing Roosevelt’s image. The President was very much impressed with Brenner’s Lincoln plaque when he saw it. Brenner suggested that Lincoln’s image would be most appropriate on the 1¢ coin, and Roosevelt agreed. The Indian cent had been circulating for 50 years and it was time to make a change. Furthermore, the year 1909 would mark the 100th anniversary of the late President’s birth. On January 30, 1909, President Roosevelt gave his official approval to the U.S. Treasury Department of Brenner’s Lincoln design.
Thus, the last Indian cents were minted during the first few months of 1909. Production of the new Lincoln cents began later that year, and the coins were first released into circulation on August 2, 1909. Demand for the new cents was high; some were being sold for a profit at 5¢ each.
A controversy arose over the inclusion of Brenner’s initials “V.D.B” on the bottom of the “wheat ears” reverse of the coin. Some thought the initials were too large or prominent and should not have been added. Mint officials acquiesced and removed the initials, but not before 27 million had been minted at the Philadelphia mint, and just a scant 484,000 at the San Francisco mint. Thus the 1909-S VDB cent is one of the most popular and publicized rarities in coin collecting history. Gosh, I never did own one of those. Did you?
The V.D.B. initials were restored in 1918, incused on the bottom left slant edge of Lincoln’s coat, where they may still be observed today. Victor David Brenner died of lung cancer at the age of 52 on April 5, 1924 in the Bronx, New York, and was interred in Highland View (Mount Judah) Cemetery in Ridgewood, Queens County, New York. He is listed as a “famous person” on the www.findagrave.com website. You may view his burial listing there, and leave “virtual flowers” and notes.
In celebration of Lincoln’s 200th birthday in 2009, the U.S. mint will be releasing four special commemorative designs for our one cent coin this year, depicting the life and times of this beloved U.S. President. They will be issued at three-month intervals. The first will feature the birth and early childhood years in Kentucky; the second: the formative years in Indiana; the third: professional life in Illinois; and the fourth: the Presidency in Washington. Be watching for them in your change. For more information, go to the U.S. Mint website homepage: www.usmint.gov and click on the option “Coins and Medals.” Then click on the “2009 Lincoln One Cent Coins” option on the left.
Do you want to know more about coin collecting? Contact the American Numismatic Association in Colorado Springs, Colorado at: www.money.org. They will let you know about the location of the coin club nearest you, and would be more than happy to supply you with additional information about this fascinating hobby.
All text copyright, 2018 © all rights reserved Frank Passic