Lincoln Cent, Wheat Head (1909-1958)

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The Lincoln Cent debuted in 1909, replacing the fifty year old Indian Head Cent design. No other American coin design comes close to the 93 year life span of the Lincoln Cent. In just a few years from now, the design will celebrate its 100th anniversary. However, as enduring as the Lincoln Cent might be, it came about only as the result of an interesting set of circumstances.

In 1905, President Theodore Roosevelt commissioned the famous American sculptor and artist, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, to prepare designs for a new Small Cent. Initially, Saint-Gaudens' design for the front of the coin featured a flying eagle motif similar to James Barton Longacre's designs on the Small Cents of 1856-1858. However, this design was scrapped in favor of a head of Victory in profile wearing an Indian headdress. Saint-Gaudens and Roosevelt liked this design so much that they used it on the 1907 $10 instead of on the Cent. Saint-Gaudens died of cancer before making any more progress on the Cent design and it was not until 1909 that Victor David Brenner made the famous bust of Lincoln with which we are all so familiar today. Lincoln was chosen as the subject for the new Cent since 1909 was the centennial of his birth. Until the appearance of Brenner's design, no person (living or dead) had ever appeared on a coin made for general circulation (however, this precedent had already been established on a few commemorative coins).

The earliest versions of the Lincoln Cent featured Brenner's initials (V.D.B.) near the bottom of the back of the coin. Apparently, such a prominent display was considered offensive, and the initials were removed later in 1909. In 1918, the initials re-appeared, this time hidden on the truncation of Lincoln's bust.