This article was originally printed in Numismatic News.
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Honest Abe has come home from the Middle East.
The 1918 Lincoln wheat cent ended its tour of duty May 9 thanks to Army Sgt. Jarrett Briscoe, who is stationed in Kuwait. And with a little help from Numismatic News Editor Dave Harper.
It all started with a letter addressed to Harper from Briscoe, an active duty soldier who is also a numismatist.
“I enjoy reading your commentary in ‘Class of ‘63,” Briscoe wrote. “I am writing to you to ask a favor.”
“You commonly mention your habit of having lunch or coffee at your favorite restaurant in Iola.”
And the unusual request unfolded.
“In this correspondence you will find a Lincoln wheat penny dated 1918. Let me provide a back story,” Briscoe wrote.
“I’m an Army soldier deployed in the Middle East. While I am away I had assumed I would have to take a one-year hiatus from my favorite hobby. However, I was sadly mistaken.”
Some things are just hard to shake.
“When making purchases in military post exchanges, no coinage is used. Instead, we receive pogs,” he explained.
Pogs, a form of scrip, have been used by the military in recent years.
“This is due largely to the expense of sending coinage overseas for military commerce and also the danger associated with carrying coinage in a tactical environment (shiny and noisy),” Briscoe explained.
That’s not to say there isn’t some U.S. coin and currency changing hands when troops are deployed overseas.
“... if making a purchase from a local national in U.S. currency, American coinage is typically returned.
“When I received a 1918 Lincoln wheat in my change halfway round the world, I was absolutely flabbergasted. How long has this faithful servant to commerce been used overseas? What a story this ‘Honest Abe’ could tell.”
And then, Briscoe asked the favor of Harper, on behalf of Old Abe.
“It would be an honor if you could repatriate this faithful servant at your local diner. It’s time for this Honest Abe to come home.”
How could Harper turn down a request like that?
So, on May 9, Harper took Honest Abe to lunch at the Crystal Cafe in Iola, Wis. He was joined by some heralded numismatists: Cliff Mishler, president of the American Numismatic Association, and Fred Borgmann, retired Krause Publications numismatic editor, and his wife, Kathy.
As Harper went to pay his bill, he pulled out that 1918 Lincoln cent that has survived two World Wars, the Great Depression, man’s walk on the moon and the advent of the World Wide Web.
He presented it to waitress Judy Gregerson as part of the tip on the promise that she would spend or pass the coin along to someone else.
“I was honored to be asked to do this,” Harper said. “I am glad my occasional references to the Crystal Cafe helps a soldier think of home.”
So thanks to an Army sergeant a half world away, Honest Abe has come home to continue his adventures.