The Lincoln Cent – Part 3 – The Many Changes
No real changes occurred in the cent from 1918 through 1942. In 1943, the cent would again see a dramatic change although not to its design, but rather due to shortages of copper caused by the war. At the time of World War II, the one-cent coin was composed of 95 percent copper and 5 percent zinc. These metals were denied to the Mint for the duration of the war, making it necessary for the Mint to seek a substitute material. After much deliberation, even including consideration of plastics, zinc-coated steel was chosen as the best in a limited range of suitable materials. Production of the war-time cent was provided for in an Act of Congress approved on December 18, 1942, which also set as the expiration date of the authority December 31, 1946.
Low-grade carbon steel formed the base of these coins, to which a zinc coating .005 inch thick was deposited on each side electrolytically as a rust preventative. The same size was maintained, but the weight was reduced from the standard 48 grains to 42 grains, due to the use of a lighter alloy. Production commenced on February 27, 1943, and by December 31, 1943, the three Mint facilities had produced 1,093,838,670 of the one-cent coins. The copper released for the war effort was enough to meet the combined needs of 2 cruisers, 2 destroyers, 1,243 flying fortresses, 120 field guns and 120 howitzers, or enough for 1.
25 million shells four our big field guns. These pennies are sometimes referred to as silver pennies due to their color when in new/AU/BU condition. On January 1, 1944, the Mint was able to adopt a modified alloy, the supply being derived from expended shell casing which when melted furnished a composition similar to the original, but with a faint trace of tin. The original weight of 48 grains was also restored. You may see many ads for these cents called war pennies. In 1955, we saw the last of the “S” mint marked wheat pennies. The San Francisco mint ceased minting “S” minted coins of cents and dimes for general circulation at the end of that year. The nickel, quarter and half dollar ceased the year before. It would not be for another 13 years (1968) before “S” mint coins were produced for general circulation. 1959 marked the 50th anniversary of the Lincoln cent and the reverse was changed to what is now the current design, the Lincoln Memorial.
On February 12, 1959, the new design was introduced as a part of the 150th anniversary celebration of Lincoln's birth. Frank Gasparro, the Assistant Engraver at the Mint in Philadelphia, prepared the winning entry, selected from a group of 23 models the engraving staff at the Mint had been asked to present for consideration. Since the cent had been in circulation for over 25 years, only the Treasury Secretary's approval was necessary. The imposing marble Lincoln Memorial in the Nation's Capital provides the central motif; the legends E PLURIBUS UNUM and UNITED STATES OF AMERICA form the rest of the design, together with the denomination. Mr. Gasparro's initials, FG, appear on the right, near the shrubbery. In 1962, the penny underwent another change, although small. Mint officials decided to drop tin from the content of the Lincoln cent, because there were manufacturing cost advantages to a stable alloy of 95 percent copper and five percent zinc. This time, however, there was no particular interest because the change was not readily notice even though technically the Lincoln cent became brass, not bronze. In 1964, due to the announcement that silver would not longer be the major component of dimes, quarters and half dollars, there was a severe coin shortage for circulation.
Although Lincoln cents were not the problem, government officials decided to not place mint marks on all coins in 1965. This continued for 2 more years (1966 and 1967), with the idea that this would keep collectors from hoarding all the coins needed for circulation. Some coins dated 1964 were actually produced 1965. Finally in 1968, mint marks were returned and the beloved “S” mint returned to circulation. The return of the “S” would be short-lived however. Unlike cents of earlier years with “S” mint marks, the cents of 1968-1974 would be produced in the multi-millions with a total number of “S” minted coins from this period totaling over three billion. Yes, that is billion. Still, it was a welcome change. The price of precious metals in the 1980's was out of control and copper was no exception which took its toll on the Lincoln cent in 1982. The composition was changed to an alloy of 99.
2 percent zinc and 0.8 percent copper, plated by pure copper resulting in a total composition of 97.5 percent zinc and 2.5 percent copper. In my next part, I will discuss the changed that will be happening in the next few years to our beloved Lincoln Cent.
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