Small Cents – Lincoln Cent, Bronze/ Brass, Memorial Reverse, 1959-1982

The Lincoln motif on the cent was introduced to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Lincoln’s birth. The 150th anniversary of that event occasioned another design change, the replacement of the wheat seed heads on the reverse with a depiction of the Lincoln Memorial. The Memorial is located at the west end of the National Mall in Washington, D.C., and while popular with the public since opened in 1922, its image on the coin was not as well received. The design by Assistant Engraver Frank Gasparro was criticized as being unbalanced and too simplistic because of the low relief needed for efficient coinage, though perhaps for some the fault was simply that the wheat design was no longer in use. The initial composition of the Memorial cent was the same copper, tin, and zinc used for the last Wheat cents, but because of a shortage of tin, cents minted from late 1962 through the end of the type were comprised only of copper and zinc. This last composition is technically brass, with tin generally considered a necessary component of bronze, but many nonetheless describe the cents as being made of bronze.

Photos used with permission and courtesy of Heritage Auction Galleries

In late 1973 the Mint looked again at alternate cent compositions, this time because copper prices were rising to the point where the metal value would have exceeded face value. In response, over 1.5 million aluminum cents were minted with a 1974 date, but because of concerns from the vending industry (amusing today in light of the reality than even most parking meters do not take cents) all but a few of the coins were melted. One survivor is in the Smithsonian, and perhaps ten or more other pieces are held by the public. However, because private possession of the aluminum cent is either illegal or of uncertain legality, thus possibly subject to confiscation, a public appearance of the citizen-held pieces is unlikely. Several modifications of the designs have been done, many to improve die life, with the resultant varieties of interest to the specialist. In 1982 the cent composition was changed once again in response to increasing metal prices, to a mostly zinc core with a pure copper plating. Today increasing metal prices continue to compromise the production costs of the cent, but another threat to its longevity has risen as many question the continuance of a denomination that may have outlived its commercial utility.

A right-facing Lincoln occupies most of the obverse. At the top, inside a raised rim and above Lincoln’s head is IN GOD WE TRUST. To the left of the portrait is LIBERTY, and to the right and slightly lower, the date. Bronze/ brass Lincoln Memorial cents were minted at Philadelphia, Denver, and San Francisco; D and S mintmarks appear below the date. The reverse center has a prominent depiction of the Lincoln Memorial, with the statue of Lincoln visible within. To the right of the Memorial base are the designer’s initials FG. UNITED STATES oF AMERICA at the top and ONE CENT at the bottom form nearly a complete text circle inside the raised rim. E PLURIBUS UNUM is placed above the Memorial, with UNUM on a separate line; centered dots are located between E and PLURIBUS, and on each side of UNUM.

Thousands of business strike bronze/ brass Lincoln Memorial cents are listed in census/ population reports, categorized by color definition (BN, RB, and RD, for Brown, Red-Brown, and Red), with most in grades of MS60 and finer and classified as Red. Prices are very modest for many issues to grades of Premium Gem, jumping to expensive and very expensive (with a few exceptions) as MS67 and finer. Higher priced issues include 1960 D Over D, Large Date Over Small Date; the prooflike 1965, 1966, and 1967 Cameo and Deep Cameo Special Mint Set pieces; 1969-S Double Die Obverse (extremely expensive in all grades); 1970-S Large Date Double Die Obverse; 1971 Double Die Obverse; and 1972 Double Die Obverse. Several hundred proof bronze/ brass Memorial cents have been certified, many as Red and with Cameo/ Deep Cameo designations. Prices are modest for many dates up to and including PR69, though higher to much higher for Cameo and Deep Cameo examples. Higher priced issues include the 1960 Large Date Over Small Date, the 1970-S Small Date in Cameo/ Deep Cameo, and the 1971-S Double Die Obverse.

Designer: Victor D. Brenner obverse, Frank Gasparro reverse.
Circulation Mintage: high 10,712,525,000 (1982), low 258,270,001 (1968-S)
Proof Mintage: high 4,149,730 (1976-S), low 1,149,291 (1959)
Denomination: One cent (01/100)
Diameter: 19 mm; plain edge
Metal Content: 95% copper, 5% tin and zinc 1959-1962; 95% copper, 5% zinc 1962-1982
Weight: 3.11 grams
Varieties: Many known including 1960 and 1960-D Large Date and Small Date; 1960 D Over D, Large Over Small Date; 1969-S Double Die Obverse; 1970-S Small Date High 7, Large Date Low 7, and Double Die Obverse; 1971-S Double Die Obverse; 1972 Double Die Obverse; 1979-S, Filled S and Clear S; 1981-S Filled S and Clear S; 1982 Large Date and Small Date; and other minor die variations

Additional Resources:
Coin Encyclopedia:
The Complete Guide to Lincoln Cents. David W. Lange. Zyrus Press
A Guide Book of Lincoln Cents. Q. David Bowers. Whitman Publishing.
Coin Collecting Boards of the 1930s and 1940s. David W. Lange. Pennyboard Press.
The Official Red Book: A Guide Book of United States Coins. R.S Yeoman (author), Kenneth Bressett (editor). Whitman Publishing.
A Guide Book of United States Type Coins. Q. David Bowers. Whitman Publishing.
United States Coinage: A Study by Type. Ron Guth and Jeff Garrett. Whitman Publishing.
The Experts Guide to Collecting & Investing in Rare Coins. Q. David Bowers. Whitman Publishing.
The U.S. Mint and Coinage. Don Taxay. Arco Publishing.
Walter Breen’s Encyclopedia of U.S. Coins. Walter Breen. Doubleday.

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  1. I have a 1960D BRONZE penney. I am confused by how many were made back then. It is in used
    condition. I have never had a BRONZE penney before


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