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Defend and describe the cent

When was the last time you thought about the cent? I mean really thought about it.

With all of the online polls that are currently taken to find out what we as Americans are thinking every 30 seconds, it might be interesting to see what Americans think of the cent.

The first order of business would be to find out if they have thought enough about the coin to know who is depicted on the obverse.

Of course, we wouldn’t call it the obverse in the poll. We would call it heads.

Who is on the heads side of the cent?

What percentage of Americans will know the answer?

Then we will turn the poll question to the reverse.

What is on the tails side of the cent?

Whatever the percentage of Americans who would know Lincoln is on the obverse, I expect roughly a tenth of that number would know what is on the reverse without looking. If they were required to call it by its official name, the Union Shield design, even fewer would come up with it.

It is likely more respondents would cite the previous Lincoln Memorial design as what is on the reverse than the Union Shield.

I expect even now, seven years into the use of the current cent reverse design, a majority of coin collectors wouldn’t be able to name it properly. That isn’t worrying. A shield is a shield is a shield, but that description wouldn’t win on a game show like "Jeopardy."

Are we getting too lazy as collectors?

What is the cent made of?

How many Americans will know that the cent hasn’t been made of a mostly copper alloy since 1982 and correctly cite copper-coated zinc, or even just zinc?

If we make each poll question multiple choice, I would expect the numbers of Americans who get each question right would rise, but even then there would be a shocking number who would not know the answers to these three questions.

The only question we can ask that would gain an assured majority would be the response to whether the coin should be abolished.

Opposition would be strong and the “No” side would handily win.

As collectors, when the inevitable question of abolishing the denomination is asked again, we should work to make Americans more familiar with what they are defending.

Buzz blogger Dave Harper has twice won the Numismatic Literary Guild Award for Best Blog and is editor of the weekly newspaper "Numismatic News."

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