Making Cents of the Economy

cents 2009

Serious coin collectors search for “key dates” in series of coins. These are years in which mintages were low, resulting in a relative scarcity. Often low mintages point to financial upheaval within the nation. (I’m still looking for a nice specimen of the 1931 cent marked with the S, for San Francisco. It’s only one of two issues of the Lincoln series with a production of less than a million.)

Take a look at cent mintages in the years that kick-started the last US Depression: 1929, 277 million; 1930: almost 222 million; 1931: 24.6 million; 1932: 19.5 million; 1933: 20.5 million. By 1934 production levels returned to the 200-millions.

What about other US coins? Not so good. In 1932 and 1933 no nickels or dimes were produced. The best pre-depression year for quarters was 1920, with a total production of over 37 million from the three mints in Philadelphia, Denver, and San Francisco. By 1930, production had fallen to just over seven million. 1931: nothing. 1932, the first year of the Washington design, a little over six million. 1933: nothing. Half dollar mintage went on hiatus too, from 1930 to 1932. Silver dollars from 1929 to 1933. You can collect two-and-a-half and five dollar gold pieces dated up to 1929, but no later–all gold coinage was phased out by FDR. You get the idea, right?

2009 LincolnCentR1I read a few months ago that the US Treasury stopped nickel and dime production in February this year. 2009-dated coins were selling on eBay for up to $80 this past Spring. Now, what little was produced is seeping into cash register drawers and pockets, so the internet speculators seem to have jumped the gun. But you never know; that 1931-S cent in mint condition is worth over $100 today.

Treasury isn’t wasting the opportunity to make something of the cent–its biggest money loser now that it costs over 2 cents to make each penny. If you wanted any of the cents with the new Lincoln reverse designs, you could order them from the Mint for something like $25 for two rolls of cents–one dollar’s worth, circulated value.

2009 LincolnCentR3I finally saw my first 2009 cents in change the other week. They weren’t the log cabin cents released in February, but the second in the series. The next day, I went to the local bank, and indeed yes: they had rolls of the new Lincoln “formative years” cent. So I had a $24 discount on Mint prices; I paid face value for two rolls. (See above.)

Later this year, the other designs (if the Mint is still producing) will feature Lincoln at the Illinois  capitol building in Springfield (left), and the headscratcher of the designs, the unfinished Capitol in Washington (lower right).

2009 LincolnCentR4I like the similarities of the lettering. I like the use of buildings in three of the four designs quite a bit less. Lincoln was a lawyer by trade, and it would seem that some representation of his profession–that wasn’t s building–would give variety in the presentation.

As for the US Capitol, it was true that our 16th president served in the House of Representatives for several years, most people know him as “president,” not “congressman.” If you want to peek at some possibilities for 2010 when the depiction of the Lincoln Memorial will be retired, check this site.

It will be interesting to see how any supposed economic recovery will be reflected in the production of coins next year. During the Great Depression, only the cents maintained production, though at a fraction of pre-crisis levels. If we don’t see coins dated 2010, 2011, and all, a case might be made that the banks, government, and financial giants have landed us much deeper that they’re letting on.

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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