Now 100, Lincoln Penny Was First With 'Heads'

'Monarchical' fears long prevented use of presidents
By Matt Cantor,  Newser User
Posted Feb 8, 2009 12:00 PM CST
The reverse sides for the 2009 Bicentennial Lincoln penny.   (AP Photo/Treasury Department)
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(Newser) – As Honest Abe's 200th birthday approaches, his likeness in our pockets is often disregarded. But the 100-year-old Lincoln penny is actually an American artistic milestone: Its debut marked the first appearance of a real person on a US coin, the New York Times reports. After the nation’s birth, putting a president on a coin “smacked of royalty,” says an expert, so George Washington opposed his own metallic representation.

Instead, generic symbols of liberty appeared on money, which by the 20th century was “artistically of atrocious hideousness,” wrote Theodore Roosevelt, who pushed for the use of an image of Lincoln by a favorite artist. When the pennies appeared in 1909, they were so popular that some sold them for 25 cents. Today, despite their waning appeal, the US Mint will update pennies this year with new backs showing four stages of Lincoln’s life.