When the Lincoln Cent reached its 50th year in production in 1959, the United States Mint expressed its desire to mark the special occasion. In addition to being an important birthday for the Lincoln Cent, 1959 was also the 150th anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln’s birth. It was quickly decided that the Lincoln Cent should be given a new reverse design to celebrate the two momentous events.
The new reverse design came from Frank Gasparro, the Mint’s assistant engraver at the time. However, Gasparro wasn’t the only Mint employee who was instructed to prepare sketches for the Lincoln Memorial Penny. An internal competition was held among all of the engravers working at the Mint, and Gasparro came out on top with his image of the Lincoln Memorial.
Gasparro’s Lincoln Memorial design was officially released to the public on February 12, 1959, the same day as what would have been Lincoln’s 150th birthday. The Lincoln Memorial Penny started as a copper coin before being changed to aluminum in 1974 and copper-plated in 1982.
No changes were made to the obverse, so the Lincoln Memorial Penny features the same design as the Lincoln Wheat Penny. On the obverse is the late President Abraham Lincoln, facing right. The word LIBERTY is situated to the left of the portrait and the date is on the right. Above Lincoln’s head is the motto IN GOD WE TRUST.
After 50 years in production, the Lincoln Cent had its first major design change, which also lasted five decades. The reverse was changed from the wheat stalks to a beautiful image of the Lincoln Memorial, which sits in the center of the coin and above the ONE CENT value. Above the memorial are two engravings including E PLURIBUS UNUM and UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.
Apparently, Lincoln Memorial Penny designer, Frank Gasparro never went to the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. when developing his design.
The original composition of the Lincoln Memorial Penny was 95% copper, but the Mint made the decision to switch to aluminum in 1974. This change was made after the nation began hoarding copper coins when the price of copper started to rise. It also quickly became too expensive for the Mint to produce copper coins when the price of the alloy began spiraling upwards.
Over 1.5 million aluminum Lincoln Memorial Pennies were struck in 1974 but were not meant for circulation. The Mint was just experimenting with aluminum to determine whether it was a viable option for the Cent, which it turned out not to be. While the majority of the aluminum pieces were melted, a few ended up in the hands of the public.
Another composition change occurred in 1982 when the Mint switched to copper-plated zinc to make production more affordable. The earlier 1982 Lincoln Memorial Pennies were struck with copper and the later pieces were the first to be changed to copper-plated zinc. As no more composition changes took place after this switch, Lincoln Cents featuring the memorial reverse continued to be struck using copper-plated zinc until 2008.
Lincoln Memorial Pennies were produced at the mints in Philadelphia (no mintmark), San Francisco (S), Denver (D) and West Point (no mintmark). There are some highly sought-after varieties and errors in the series; with the most famous being the 1982 coins with the old 95% copper composition and the 1982 copper-plated zinc pieces. Many small and large date varieties were also struck in 1982.
Other coveted Lincoln Memorial Pennies include the 1960-D and 1960 Philadelphia issue, both of which were made with small and large dates. The 1972, 1984 and 1995 with doubling on the reverse are also scarce. However, the major rarity is the aluminum piece that was not distributed for commerce.
If you would like to get hold of rare or key date Lincoln Memorial Pennies, please don’t hesitate to reach out to Capital Gold Group. Not only do we have many genuine specimens in stock but our experts can also source specific dates of your choosing. For more information about purchasing these coins, please feel free to call us, send an email or get in touch via our online message form.