Lincoln's penny — pricey or priceless?
When asked, students actually named both presidents whose birthdays are responsible for President’s Day weekend and even identified the currency which bears their images.
Lincoln was one of the most recognizable faces in America, largely due to the invention of photography. During Lincoln’s presidency it became possible to reproduce prints inexpensively, and though Lincoln made fun of his own homely looks, his image replaced Uncle Sam as the symbol of this country.
Portraits of politicians used to be precious. Back in the day when we were engaged in the Civil War, leaders were revered. Families replaced religious icons with prints of Lincoln. Over the course of his term, images of Lincoln showed the change from a bearded statesman to a fatigued president.
In 1909, the U.S. mint stamped Abraham Lincoln’s image on the front of the penny. He was the first president to have his face minted on a coin.
The value of the penny continues to drop, and in 2006 the cost of a penny surpassed the value of the penny. Both pennies and nickels cost more to make than they are worth.
A single penny now cost 2 cents to make and a nickel cost 10 cents. If getting rid of the penny led to a greater use of the nickel, perhaps we should stop producing both coins. Cash transactions would simply be rounded to the nearest dime. Most store purchases are made with debit or credit cards rather than cash.
For over 30 years pennies were made of pure copper but now they only have 2.5 pecent copper and 97.5 percent zinc. The zinc industry wants to keep manufacturing the coin because pennies produce profits in the millions.
Others have suggested using cheaper metals such as steel to mint the pennies rather than zinc, as they did during World War II. No matter what the penny is made of, its use is declining.
Americans for Common Cents is a group also trying to keep the penny circulating. They think if we didn’t have the penny we would rely more on the nickel, which also costs twice as much to make as it’s worth.
Some fear charities that depend on penny drives would not be able to raise as much money. The Salvation Army, which receives many coin donations, hopes the American public will continue giving generously to those in need even without smaller coins.
Many countries have stopped using pennies. U.S. citizens worry that without the penny they’d end up paying more to purchase goods, so two-thirds of Americans want to keep the penny.
On the other side of the coin, experts argue that many countries including Canada have stopped producing their lowest-valued coins to save them money. Canada no longer circulates their penny as of this month, and Canadian officials estimate this will save $4 million annually.
The debate about whether to continue minting these coins goes on. While not as heated as the conflict between the North and the South during the Civil War, there are those who want to preserve history by keeping the penny and those that want to make fiscally responsible decisions and stop minting and circulating these coins. Who will win is still unclear.
Abraham Lincoln courageously demanded that the Confederate States remain part of our union and went to war when they refused. Are your convictions strong enough you’d go to war in order to prevail?
Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation declaring freedom for slaves. The 13th Amendment that followed ended slavery. His actions set in motion ripples that are still being felt today. Whether the penny survives or ceases to exist, Lincoln’s legacy will live on. What ripples will you set in motion during your life? What legacy will you leave behind?
Kristi McCracken, author of two children’s books and a long time teacher in the South Valley, can be reached at email@example.com.