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Coin Of the Month

Uncovering America's Heritage... Coin by Coin

The Lincoln penny

Inspector Collector here to share my coin smarts with you.  This month I have a really basic question:  Why does the portrait of Abraham Lincoln on the penny face to the right when all of the other presidents' portraits face to the left?

Tricky question, eh?  Well, the answer is there's no real reason for it.  It's not because of a law or anything like that.  It was simply the designer's choice.

This President's Day, take a close look at the presidents on our coins.  Washington, Roosevelt, Kennedy...look carefully.  You'll see that they all face left except Jefferson, who faces forward.

But none of these coins existed when the Lincoln penny was released.  Victor D. Brenner, the engraver who designed Lincoln's portrait for the penny, didn't have other coins to base himself on.  He used an already-existing image as his model.  And in that image, Lincoln faced right.

First issued in 1909 to commemorate the 100-year anniversary of Lincoln's birth, the Lincoln penny was the first United States circulating coin to bear a president's image.

Since 1909, Brenner's portrait of our 16th President (1861–65) has graced each and every circulating penny.  And I know another secret!  (Remember, I am Inspector Collector, after all!)  The penny's reverse has changed since 1909, but not the obverse.  See if you recognize the first wheat heads reverse.

Inspector Collector

OBVERSE: The Lincoln penny
Obverse:  Victor D. Brenner's famous profile of Lincoln, on the penny obverse since 1909.

WHEAT HEADS REVERSE: The Lincoln penny
Wheat Heads Reverse:  Two sprigs of wheat adorn the first Lincoln penny reverse (1909-1958) This is the first time the motto IN GOD WE TRUST appeared on a coin of this denomination.

Lincoln Memorial Reverse:  The Lincoln Memorial reverse, designed by Frank Gasparro, was introduced in 1959 on the 150th anniversary of Lincoln's birth.

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