Whether you are an avid coin collector or you’ve recently started to take a closer look at the money you spend or receive, you have probably wondered why various faces are depicted on each individual piece of change. From George Washington and Franklin D. Roosevelt to Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln, a handful of men who have played a key role in the history of the United States of America have had their faces immortalized on the coins that pass throughout people’s pockets, wallets and purses on a daily basis. Although it is the piece of currency with the lowest monetary value in circulation in the 21st century, the penny—which features an image of Abraham Lincoln—is one of the most easily recognizable coins ever to have existed. One common question that many coin collectors ask is, “Why does Lincoln face right on the penny?”
Who is Abraham Lincoln?
Abraham Lincoln was the 16th man to serve as president of the United States of America, a position he held from 1861 to 1865. Born Feb. 12, 1809, in a tiny log cabin located in Hardin County, Ky., Abraham Lincoln was the son of Thomas and Nancy Hanks Lincoln. After his mother passed away when he was just nine years old, Abraham’s father married Sarah Bush Johnson, a woman who encouraged him to learn to read and write. When the family relocated to Macon County, Ill., in the 1830s, Abraham earned a living performing tasks involving manual labor. Because he spent a considerable amount of time splitting wood to build rail fences, Abraham quickly earned the reputation of a hard worker, and stories of his ax-wielding abilities are still told in the 21st century.
After serving as a captain during the Black Hawk War of 1832, Abraham began a political career by serving in the Illinois legislature for eight years. He was admitted to the bar in 1837 and practiced law for several years before serving a single term in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1847 until 1849. During the 1860 election, Abraham beat his challenger—a northern Democrat named Stephen A. Douglas—to win the presidency. Despite the wide array of achievements Abraham accomplished while in office, he will forever have a place in history books because he lead the United States and its people through the ups and downs that accompanied the American Civil War and he succeeded in liberating the slaves with the Emancipation Proclamation.
The Abraham Lincoln Penny
In 1909, a penny displaying Abraham Lincoln’s face was put into circulation in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the former president’s birth in Kentucky. Although all other coins in circulation depicted former presidents facing to the left, the Abraham Lincoln penny depicted the right side of Lincoln’s face, causing many coin collectors and everyday citizens to wonder if such placement was purposeful or had any kind of hidden meaning. According to the United States Mint, the image on the Lincoln penny is an adaptation of a bronze plaque that was designed by an esteemed portraitist named Victor David Brenner in celebration of the centennial year.
Theodore Roosevelt—who was president at the time of the 100th anniversary of Lincoln’s birth—was reportedly so impressed by the plaque Brenner had created for the celebration, he came up with the idea to create a coin showcasing the former president as well. He is facing to the right because the plaque Brenner had already completed featured Abraham Lincoln looking to the right. Despite the misconception that the U.S. Mint mandated the coin be different from all other forms of currency in terms of the direction the former president was facing, the real reason Lincoln faces right on the penny is merely the result of a design choice made by Brenner when he initially created the plaque in honor of Lincoln's birthday celebration.