On display in your Vanishing Texana Museum is an antique 1909 VDB Lincoln penny. The rarest of the 1909 VDB penny is the S-VDB, the “S” signifying it was struck in the San Francisco mint. Only 484,000 of the S-VDB were minted versus almost 28 million of the VDB penny. Because there is no mint mark on the exhibition penny, we know it was struck at the Philadelphia mint. What make this coin very collectable is on the reverse side. The (wheat) image is rotated about 15 degrees from the center axis.
The first pennies minted in 1909 were the Indian Head pennies, and we also have a 1909 Indian Head penny on display, which had been the design since before the Civil War. Because of delays with casting issues just over 14,000,000 Indian head pennies were minted before the Lincoln penny was released in August of 1909.
President Theodore Roosevelt felt US coinage was uninspiring and should be more like European coins. He had appointed Augustus Saint Gaudens, the designer of the iconic twenty dollar double eagle gold piece, to design a new coin in honor of the hundredth anniversary of the birth of President Abraham Lincoln. Regretfully, Saint Gaudens passed before the project could be completed.
The task of designing a new coin fell to the engravers at the US Mint. One of them, Victor David Brenner, had previously done a carving in bronze of President Lincoln. When Roosevelt saw the bronze plaque of Lincoln, he ordered it to become the obverse side of a new US penny.
Because the image of Lincoln came from a rectangular plaque, it was necessary to remove part of his torso so his head would be centered on the coin. This left an open space above the bust of Lincoln and so the words, “In God We Trust” were added to the coin. The first coin to display our national motto was the 1864 two penny coin, also on display in your museum. In 1954, President Eisenhower signed legislation requiring all US currency to display the motto. Additionally, the representative plaque had Lincoln facing to the right. All coins up to that time, and since then, have the image facing to the left.
The forthcoming issue of a new penny with a revered president on it created a significant demand. Although everyone seemed to love the new design, there was trouble afoot inside the treasury. On the reverse side of the coin, in very readable letters, were the initials VDB signifying the designer of the coin, Victor David Brenner. Up to this time the designer of the coin would have just had the first letter of his last name, “B” in this case, added to the coin. Brenner was accused of being vain and seeking to improve his station by having all three letters. Even though he had signed off on the design, Secretary of the Treasury, Franklin MacVeagh, ordered the initials removed. 25 million coins with “VDB” were issued on August 2, 1809 but production stopped almost immediately thereafter. Changes were made to the molds and on August 12, 1809 new coins, without the VDB initials were issued. It wouldn’t be until 1918, after his death, that Brenner’s initials were restored to the coin. They still appear today located where Lincoln’s shoulder is cut off by the edge of the coin.
We hope to tell you more about the history of US pennies, but until then here are a few highlights of the Lincoln penny.
In 1922, the Philadelphia mint was engaged in trying to launch a new silver dollar, the Peace Dollar. It suspended minting pennies for a period, but the Denver mints still had outstanding orders for them. The Denver mint then began to strike pennies using a worn out obverse die. The head side of the 1922D coin is much shallower that most pennies. On many pennies the die with the mint mark “D” became filled with dirt and the mint mark does not appear or is very faint. A 1922 penny with no mint mark is relatively rare and is very collectable.
In January, 1917 pennies with the mint mark “P” began appearing in circulation. The mint did not announce it in advance. , The “P” was addd to celebrate the Philadelphia mint’s 225th anniversary. The 2017 penny is the only time the Philadelphia mint mark appears on a coin. Over four billion pennies were minted, so you can probably still find one in your change drawer. The Philadelphia mint can make over 1,800,000 pennies per hour! While the cost to make a penny exceeds it worth, they remain in circulation for many decades and so are worth the investment. It is estimated that over 62 million dollars in pennies are lost every year. It is estimated that making change using pennies adds 2.5 seconds to every cash transaction. For the average person, that’s about 2 hours per year.
Finally, a 1909 VDB coin, similar to the one on display, was sent to the surface of Mars. The Mars rover Curiosity carried a 1909 “VDB” penny for use as a calibration target for the robot’s Mars Hand Lens Imager instrument. Thinking of going to Mars and getting the penny? It would be of considerable value! Sorry, but it is officially the property of the US Government.
If you have a collectable, or even just an unusual penny, we hope you will consider loaning it to us during this exhibition. Oh, and that 1922 Peace Dollar we mentioned above – a complete collection will be on exhibit this summer.
Your Vanishing Texana Museum is open every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.. Parking and admission at our 300 South Bolton location are both free.