WASHINGTON – A penny for your thoughts will have extra meaning in 2009 – the 200th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birth and the 100th anniversary of the introduction of the Lincoln penny.
To commemorate the event, the U.S. Mint, at the direction of Congress, will introduce four rotating designs on the 1-cent coin for that year depicting different aspects of Lincoln’s life.
Those designs will replace the engraving of the Lincoln Memorial on the “tails” side of the coin. The famous profile of Lincoln will remain on the “heads” side of the coin.
The Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee, which provides recommendations on such matters, met Tuesday and got into a lively debate over what those rotating images should be.
They chose a log cabin depicting where Lincoln was born in 1809 for the first image, although two separate but similar drawings of the cabin received an equal number of votes.
Lincoln as a young man reading a book and taking notes with a quill pen was the panel’s choice for Lincoln’s early years, and Lincoln on the floor of the Illinois Legislature won out for the best design of Lincoln in early adulthood.
But the panel did not like any of the designs for Lincoln’s presidency, some of which depicted various images of a half-completed Capitol dome, evoking Lincoln’s famous order that construction of the Capitol should continue during the Civil War as a symbol that the Union would continue.
Instead, the committee voted to request that the Mint designers and engravers come back with depictions of Lincoln as a war president, perhaps visiting the troops. However, this provoked disagreement because some panel members believed instead of Lincoln as a military commander, the final image should depict Lincoln as the “Great Emancipator” who signed the Emancipation Proclamation freeing the slaves.
“The Emancipation Proclamation is so significant, to leave it off … would be a terrible mistake,” said Rita Laws, a former school teacher and a member of the advisory panel.
Other members said it was more important to emphasize Lincoln’s role as commander in chief during the Civil War.
“We need to emphasize that his presidency coincided with the Civil War,” said John Alexander, a history professor at the University of Cincinnati. That viewpoint prevailed on an 8-2 vote.
The coinage advisory panel is one of three groups making recommendations to the Mint on what the final designs should look like. Also taking part are the Commission of Fine Arts and the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission. The Mint will review all the recommendations before sending advice to Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, who by law gets to pick the final designs.