Searching for treasures in the coin jar

Published 12:23 am Saturday, January 7, 2017

Are you one of those people who save the loose change from your pocket or purse? If you are like me, you have a special container for it. Next time you need a few pennies, a dime or two, or a quarter, you know where to find them. But do you ever take time to examine those coins?

When I heard about a Lincoln wheat penny turning up in some change recently, I was curious. Sure, I have seen wheat pennies in everyday use, but it has been a long time ago. My parents once ran a grocery store and handled money every day during the 1940s and early 1950s. In fact, wheat pennies were minted from 1909 through 1958. They honored the 100th anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln’s birth. The wheat stalk design on the reverse side of the coin symbolized the prosperity of the United States.

In probing for more information about the Lincoln wheat coin, I found that 1922 was the only year that wheat pennies were produced exclusively at a mint other than Philadelphia. In 1943, a year’s issue of steel pennies was struck to help save copper for the war effort. The following year, 1944, the mint struck more than one billion pennies for the first time.

On July 11, 1955, President Dwight Eisenhower signed the bill into law to place “In God We Trust” on all U.S. currency, including the one-cent coins. Another change occurred in 1958 when President Eisenhower and Secretary of the Treasury Robert B. Anderson approved a new Lincoln cent reverse design featuring the Lincoln Memorial. These coins, struck on Jan. 2, 1959, permanently replaced Lincoln wheat pennies.

I was surprised to learn that during the Civil War, “In God We Trust” appeared on two-cent pieces. The two-cent coin was produced for only 10 years.

I was happy to find that the head of the first living person appearing on a coin was one of Alabama’s governors. His name was Thomas Erby Kilby Sr. President George Washington refused to have his likeness on a coin because he did not want it to give the impression of a monarchy. In 1926, Calvin Coolidge became the first living president to have his picture appear on a coin. The first coin featuring an African-American was the Booker T. Washington Memorial half-dollar in 1946. Born a slave, Booker T. Washington became one of the most celebrated educators and orators in the world. He founded the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama in 1881.

Have you ever noticed a single letter on the main side of a coin? If so, did you wonder what it meant? It refers to the mint that made it. If you see a P, that means it was minted in Philadelphia; if a D, it was minted in Denver; and if there is an S, it was minted in San Francisco. Only the Philadelphia Lincoln cent has no mint mark.

One more fact: From 1942-45, nickels were made of copper, silver, and manganese.


Nina Keenam is retired from the newspaper business. Her column appears on Saturdays.