The familiar portrait of Lincoln on the obverse or "heads" side of the penny has been there, essentially unchanged, for over 100 years. 2009 was the 200th anniversary of Lincoln's birth and the 100th anniversary of the beloved Lincoln Cent. To celebrate these milestones, the U.S. Mint released a special series of new penny designs for 2009.
The new penny designs, which appeared on the reverse, or "tails" side, depict four different periods in the life of revered U.S. President Abraham Lincoln. While the obverse remains unchanged. The United States Mint released the new pennies one at a time, each about three months apart. On Feb. 12, 2009, the Mint released the first penny on the 200th Anniversary of Lincoln's birth.
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Birth and Early Childhood in Kentucky (1809-1816)
The first of the four new reverse designs for 2009 features Abraham Lincoln's life as a young boy in Kentucky, where he was born in a log cabin. U.S. Mint Artistic Infusion Program (AIP) Master Designer Richard Masters created this realistic design, different from most grade-school textbooks' depictions of Lincoln's cabin. Lincoln's cabin always seemed neat, clean, and perfectly built in the books. Most people think this design captures the reality of what a hand-built, early 19th-century log cabin looked like on the American frontier. U.S. Mint Sculptor-Engraver Jim Licaretz sculpted the coin dies based upon the design from Masters.
Be aware that collectors have found some die varieties on the reverse. Look for some doubling on the ends of the logs on the corner of the cabin. The doubling is minute, and you will need at least a 5X-10X magnifying glass to see the doubling on the ends of the logs. If you find one of these die varieties, the added premium ranges from a few dollars to ten dollars depending upon which variety you find. Additionally, the coin's condition is a significant determinant of its value.Continue to 2 of 6 below.
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Lincoln's Formative Years in Indiana (1816-1830)
The second of the new penny designs pays tribute to Abraham Lincoln's youth in Indiana, where he worked as a rail-splitter for the railroad. In the image, designed and sculpted by United States Mint Sculptor-Engraver Charles Vickers, Lincoln is depicted reading during a break from what must have been backbreaking work! The graceful portrait of the young Lincoln, with his tall, lanky frame relaxing as he caresses the book in his arms, completes this coin's design.
This coin has the most die varieties of any coin in the series. Most of the die varieties involved Lincoln's hand holding the book. Some of the more minor varieties make it look like there is a shadow by Lincoln's fingers. Other more dramatic varieties seem like there are other fingers on Lincoln's hands. The more dramatic die varieties and a little value to the premium of the coin's value. However, none of the die varieties are rare or expensive.Continue to 3 of 6 below.
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Lincoln's Professional Life in Illinois (1830-1861)
Lincoln's professional life is the part that happened in Illinois. The building depicted in the penny design is the old Illinois state capitol in Springfield. Lincoln gave a seminal speech there on June 16, 1858, upon his nomination for the U.S. Senate on the Republican ticket, a race he ultimately lost. The speech referred to as his House Divided speech, isn't as well known as the Gettysburg Address, but it showed that Lincoln had remarkable moral courage, and represented a turning point in how the intellectual elite perceived Lincoln.
AIP Master Designer Joel Iskowitz created the design for this coin, and it was sculpted by U.S. Mint Sculptor-Engraver Don Everhart.Continue to 4 of 6 below.
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Lincoln's Presidency in Washington, DC (1861-1865)
The depiction of the U.S. Capitol dome under construction was a somewhat controversial choice for this coin design. Many images can be used to portray the quintessential "Lincoln as President" archetype, but the half-finished Capitol dome certainly isn't one of them. In the end, however, this design was chosen as being the most emblematic of the challenges Lincoln faced overall during his presidency.
The U.S. was torn apart by the Civil War and its underlying moral struggle regarding slavery. Lincoln sought to build consensus and compromise and attempted to heal the nation after this terrible conflict. The construction of the U.S. Capitol dome, which was completed during Lincoln's first term, stands as an excellent symbol of everything Lincoln stood for. The depiction on the coin is pretty much the same as the Capitol building appeared during Lincoln's Inauguration as President on March 4, 1861.
AIP Master Designer Susan Gamble created the design for this penny and was sculpted by U.S. Mint Sculptor-Engraver Joseph Menna.Continue to 5 of 6 below.
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The U.S. Capitol During Lincoln's Inauguration
If you were wondering where Susan Gamble got the inspiration for her 2009 Lincoln Cent design, this photo would give you a hint. This fantastic image, from the Library of Congress, was taken on Abraham Lincoln's Inauguration Day for his first term of office on March 4, 1861. It is essential to the U.S. Mint that coin designs are as historically accurate as possible, and great care is taken to make sure the smallest details are as correct.
Fortunately, Lincoln's presidency happened shortly after this photography became widely published. This photograph provided crucial documentation of how the United States Capitol in Washington D.C., looked during Lincoln's presidency. The next image in this gallery shows how two different 2009 penny artists depicted Lincoln's face.Continue to 6 of 6 below.
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Two Views of Lincoln's Face
As this image gallery demonstrates, the new 2009 penny designs are intended to show four different phases of Abraham Lincoln's life. Lincoln is only depicted in two of the designs, the second and third. The complete design is shown on the top, to give perspective, with an enlargement of Lincoln's face. The one on the left, from Lincoln's formative years, was drawn by Charles Vickers. Joel Iskowitz drew the one on the right.
When you look at the image of Lincoln in the third coin in this series, you can see that Iskowitz has somehow magically conveyed the hopes and dreams of a confident, but perhaps still an uncertain young man. Lincoln stands with his arm out to command your attention without demanding it, while the hand behind his back shows an artful combination of openness and a hint of insecurity.
We see Lincoln as the human being he was, with quirks and fears and hopes and dreams, rather than as the stern-faced, bearded icon that we know from our currency. In the enlargement of Lincoln's face, especially in the eyes, Iskowitz had captured the emotion that Lincoln felt when he gave his "House Divided" speech at the Illinois Statehouse in 1858. Too bad this beautiful face is so teeny on the finished coin that we'll hardly see the beauty here.
Contrast Iskowitz's "fiery young orator" Lincoln with Charles Vickers' portrait (left image) of Lincoln reading as a youth. Vickers tells his story in the overall body language, rather than in the details of the face; Lincoln is depicted as a sensitive young man, given more to books and studying than the physical toll of log-splitting. Where are the muscles a manual laborer doing this work would have? Vickers' Lincoln is just passing through the log-splitting job, taking a break, as it were, from Lincoln's real-life work, which was primarily intellectual rather than physical.