Thursday, February 12, 2009
A penny for your thoughts...
As many of you know, today is the 200th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birth. On February 12, 1809, in a log cabin in Kentucky, Tom Lincoln’s wife, the former Nancy Hanks, gave birth to a son who grew up to be the sixteenth President of the United States (or POTUS, as the news magazines say). First in war, first in peace, first in the hearts of his countrymen. Oh, wait, that was George Washington.
This month’s Reader’s Digest has an interesting article entitled "Abraham Lincoln Turns 200" that you can read here if you like.
In this post, however, we will pause to honor the lowly Lincoln penny, which is one hundred years old this year. Pause and consider. Selah.
Do you think it is made of copper? Think again.
At the time of World War II, according to my source (don't I sound like a journalist?), the one-cent coin was composed of 95 percent copper and 5 percent zinc. But 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. Low-grade carbon steel formed the base of these coins, to which a zinc coating .005 inch thick was deposited on each side electrolytically (what a big word!) as a rust preventative. Between February 27, 1943, and December 31, 1943, the three Mint facilities had produced 1,093,838,670 of the stainless steel 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 for our big field guns. The stainless steel pennies were produced only in 1943.
On January 1, 1944, the Mint adopted 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 composition of the coin was changed again in 1962. Mint officials felt that deletion of the tin content would have no adverse effect on the wearing qualities of the coin, whereas, the manufacturing advantages to be gained with the alloy stabilized at 95 percent copper and 5 percent zinc would be of much benefit. Congressional authority for this modification is contained in an Act of Congress approved on September 5, 1962. In 1982, the coin's composition changed again to copper-plated zinc. These coins, which are still being produced today, contain 97.6 percent zinc and 2.4 percent copper. So although this coin is identical in size and appearance to the predominantly copper cent issued before 1982, its make-up in terms of zinc and copper has been reversed from 19/20ths copper and 1/20th zinc to more than 19/20ths zinc and less than 1/20 copper.
And one last interesting fact: It now costs 1.2 cents to produce each 1-cent coin.
All of which means only one thing: This could never happen today.