In honor of the upcoming bicentennial of Abraham Lincoln's birth, the U.S. Mint is giving the 100-year-old Lincoln penny a new look. The front will continue to show his profile, but the Lincoln Memorial on the back will be replaced by images that are intended to evoke different aspects of his life, such as a log cabin and young Abe sitting on a log, reading. This is expected to create a big buzz in the coin-collecting world, but in truth, the only makeover the penny needs is a disappearing act.
The shiny copper veneer of pennies made after 1983 hides a heart of zinc, and even so, depending on the value of the metals involved, the cent sometimes costs more than a cent to make. Lincoln, a self-taught man born to poverty, knew the value of a penny back when it had real value, and most likely he would have found its continued existence wasteful and downright silly.
Except as a coin to rummage around for in your pocket or purse -- hoping to come up with the right change lest the cashier dump more pennies on you -- the cent has outlived its usefulness. Phasing it out would require simply that we round amounts off to the nearest nickel, which might sound frightening to those who watch their pennies. No doubt there were similar fears when the United States stopped coining the half-cent in 1857. Even back then, the copper was worth more than the coin itself.