Pennies tend to be popular with collectors. You’d be surprised by the number of old pennies that exist in the United States. But we’ve been making coins ever since 1787. Naturally, it’s normal to assume that there are people out there collecting them. But do you know about the history of the US penny? If not, here are a couple of fun facts everyone should know.
Ben Franklin Made the First Penny
As mentioned previously, the first iteration of the US penny was in 1787. Back then, no one could’ve imagined the US penny would be so popular with trivia gamegoers. Ben Franklin certainly couldn’t know, but did you know that the Founding Father was the first person to make the very first penny? Back then, the coin was called Fugio cent. Even though Franklin designed it, the coin was only in circulation in 1787. After that, around 1793, the US Mint was told to make the first US Penny.
They Were Different In Size
If you’ve ever seen antique coins before, you probably know that they’re different from one another. While ancient Greeks and Romans had ways to make their coins similar in size, perfection was rarely achieved. The US Mint has produced trillions of pennies over the years.
But in the very beginning, the cent looked quite different. It was significantly bigger, and the US Mint couldn’t settle on a particular size. That’s why, over the next several decades, the Mint changed the design, until 1856 when it introduced a smaller cent. This design was known as the Flying Eagle design.
The Penny Was Much More Valuable Back Then
We all know the US penny to be the lowest face-value coin of the US currency. But did you know that it was much more valuable back in the 1800s? Nowadays, the US penny doesn’t get the respect it deserves. That’s partly due to inflation and other factors that have significantly lowered the value of the one-cent coin.
But back in the 1850s, a single penny would buy you a product that costs 30 cents to purchase today! That leaves people asking, just how much is 80,000 pennies worth in 1857?
The Name “Penny” Isn’t American
Contrary to popular belief, the one-cent coin was called just that. The word penny is British, and it represents a bronze coin and monetary unit equal to one-hundredth of a pound. So how did the one-cent coin end up being called a penny?
Well, even though most Americans call it a penny, the actual name of the coin is a “cent.” And if you ask the US Mint, the coin is officially labeled and called a “cent.” It was during the colonial period where sailors from the British isles and Americans would greet and exchange currencies. Back then, sailors used to exchange cents and pennies. Perhaps the sailors liked the name. While this isn’t the official version of the story, as there is none, plenty of people like it as it shows the close bond between the US and the UK today.
The Penny Wasn’t the Lowest Face Value Coin At That Time
Most Americans know that the penny is the lowest face value coin nowadays. But back in the late 1700s and early 1800s, the US Mint produced a wide range of coins. The most popular is, by far, the half-cent or half-penny. Nowadays, these coins are very rare and sell for a lot of money.
In 50 years, the US Mint produced all kinds of half-cents. They also made even smaller value coins such as the 2-cent piece, the 3-cent piece, and the half-dime. If you find one of these, collectors will pay you a ton of pennies to take them from you.
Abraham Lincoln Was The First Man Printed On the Penny
Throughout the years, the US penny has had plenty of designs. The total number is eleven. However, the Lincoln penny was the very first design with a real human. It is also the first time a US president featured on the penny. This particular design was introduced in 1909. It is the longest-running design. But even the Lincoln penny went through several redesigns over the years.
By far the most popular Lincoln penny was the Lincoln Wheat Cent from 1959 to 2008. This coin fetches a pretty heft price. Collectors estimated that the coin is worth anywhere between $500 and $1,600 for a single coin!
If you’re thinking of collecting all Lincoln designs, 7 in total, then you’d need to amass a budget of anywhere between $100,000 and $200,000! Turns out collecting Lincoln pennies isn’t a cheap hobby.
Pennies Are Made From Copper, But Some Were Made From Steel
It’s a well-known fact that the US one-cent coin is made out of copper. Copper, as one can imagine, is an important material that we use in various means of production. But copper is especially important during wartime. That was the case in 1943, during the Second World War. At that time, the US declared war on the Axis powers and had to prioritize resources. Some of the resources that were close to running dry were rubber, oil, nylon, and various metals including copper.
While copper supplies were low, since the US manufactured its own ammunition, there were tons of supplies of steel. So the US mint stopped using copper to make the one-cent coin and instead turned to steel. During the 1943 mint, the US made 1.1 billion steel pennies. While you might think the steel penny would fetch a hefty price, the opposite is the truth.
Steel pennies are quite common, hence why they’re not as valuable.