AMERICAN PENNY HISTORY SECRETS
The penny in the
is a one-cent coin. Presently, the United United States
States Mint strikes about 12 billion pennies annually, accounting for over onehalf of all coins struck by the mint. If the pennies struck by the U.S. Mint since its inception were lined up edge to edge, the pennies would roughly circle the earth 137 times (www.penny.org ).
Historically, the penny was a copper coin. Copper coinage came slowly to the
English-speaking countries, perhaps because of its long association with currency debasement. Early in the 17th century,
had debased its silver coin with copper alloy, eventually striking coins that were virtually all copper with face values commensurate with high silver content. Spain
The prevailing opinion in
was that only gold and silver met the standard of a monetary metal. A shortage of small change among tavern keepers and tradesmen, however, prompted the introduction of private tokens. To meet the need for small change, the English government in 1613 first struck copper coins. England struck the first copper pennies for home use in 1797. Great Britain
sanctioned as legal tender copper coins called Patrick’s pence, after the Irishman who brought the coins to the colonies. In 1722 the British government authorized William Wood to mint pennies and halfpence for New Jersey and the colonies. These pennies were a mixture of copper, tin, and zinc, and had a touch of silver. Under the Articles of Confederation, several states established mints that turned out copper coins. Ireland
The Coinage Act of 1792 established the cent and the half-cent and set the weight of the cent at 264 grains of copper. The act made no provision for the actual coinage of copper, and the legal tender provisions of the act failed to mention copper coins.
Congress soon amended the act to provide for the purchase of copper and for necessary arrangements for the coinage of copper cents and half-cents. Congress also began to think of the copper coinage as a fiduciary issue, and authorized the president to substantially reduce the copper weight of the cent and half-cent.
Congress also banned the circulation of foreign copper coins, a restriction that did not apply for foreign gold and silver coins. The Spanish silver dollar circulated as clearly legal tender currency while the legal tender status of the copper cents and half-cents remained in doubt.
After President Washington reduced the copper content of the cent to 168 grains, the coinage of cents and half-cents accelerated as a profit-making venture.
In 1857, Congress substantially increased the seigniorage on the copper coins. It abolished the half-cent and reduced the weight of the one-cent coin to 72 grains with 88 percent copper and 12 percent nickel. In 1864, Congress again changed the composition of the cent, raising the copper content to 95 percent with the remaining 5 percent zinc.
Congress also made the one-cent coin legal tender.
In 1909, to mark the 100th year since his birth, Abraham Lincoln became the first historical figure to adorn a
coin. Fifty years later, an image of the Lincoln Memorial appeared on the reverse side, and today both sides of the penny commemorate Abraham Lincoln. United States
In 2009, the U.S. Mint will issue four different one-cent coins to commemorate the 200th anniversary of President Lincoln’s birth and the 100th anniversary of the production of the
Rising copper prices in the 1970s caused a shortage of pennies, then worth more as copper than as money. Pennies were melted down for copper, and to keep pennies in circulation the government reduced the penny’s copper content to 2.5 percent, the remaining 97.5 percent was composed of zinc.
In the first decade of the new century, the penny’s future stands somewhat uncertain.
Inflated price levels may have made the penny coin obsolete, but proposals to discontinue the penny have not met with widespread approval. State and local governments claim the penny plays a needed role in the collection of sales taxes applied at percentage rates. Consumer groups claim abolishing the penny will mean that prices will be rounded up a nickel instead of a penny, leading to higher prices. Opponents of the penny cite its insignificant purchasing power, and the time and resources that households and businesses put into managing pennies. In 2001 and
2006, bills came up in Congress to stop production of the penny, but the bills failed to pass.
The U.S. Mint contends that coinage of the penny is profitable to the government, and other large major industrialized countries, including
Great Britain, Canada, Japan, Germany, France, and , have kept the penny, or penny equivalents, in production. Italy Australia and have removed their penny equivalent from circulation. New Zealand