Next year will be the 200th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birth. It will also be the 100th anniversary of the Lincoln penny, first minted in 1909. If it lives that long.
Lately, there are renewed cries for its demise. First, I saw an article in the New York Times last week. Then there was a commentary on NPR this week. And their arguments are sound enough, I guess. First, what can you buy for a penny these days? Nothing. In fact, the government can’t even buy a penny for a penny these days—in the last fiscal year, it cost them 1.67¢ to produce one.
But while I’m the first to admit I hate it when too many pennies find their way into my pocket change, I’m not so ready to see them go away. First, its demise would be license for everyone in the retail supply chain to round up their prices. A little plastic doodad that a manufacturer charges a distributor 32¢ for, for instance—think he’ll round down to 30¢? Right. Then the distributor rounds up as he marks it up for the retailer, who rounds up as he sells it to you. Suddenly, the death of the penny has cost you a dime.
And if the penny goes away, what’s to protect the nickel? This 5-cent piece currently costs the government 9.5¢ to produce, an even worse bargain than the penny.
On a less practical level, but just as important—and maybe more so—I like carrying around a portrait of our greatest president. It’s nice to have this constant, tangible, reassuring reminder of great leadership, particularly these days.
By the way, that building on the back of the penny is the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC. You probably knew that. But did you know that if you look at it closely with a magnifying glass, you can see the seated statue of Lincoln in the middle? When I first found that out as a kid, I thought it was really, really cool. I still do.
But even if the penny survives, that feature is doomed. As the Times article states, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Lincoln penny, “The United States Mint plans to issue four new designs for the penny’s reverse side, each representing a different phase of Lincoln’s life.”
Maybe it’s time to say goodbye to the penny after all.