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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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One Response to Defend and describe the cent

  1. Vachon says:

    While I know in my mind that the cent (and nickel and dime for that matter) are effectively worthless (or unnecessarily precise if you want to put it another way) in day-to-day transactions and should be abolished, the cent is still the only coin which has the capacity to delight me, however briefly.

    Although to find one in circulation would be properly considered anomalous, it still happens often enough that I may find myself the recipient of some common-date cent from, say, 1929, and get to reflect on that coin’s journey for a moment. I’m not sure how many other countries in the world can have that experience (that is, to find a nearly hundred year old coin that is still perfectly spendable in their change). There’s a sense of pride in that (though I wish as a country we had the same sense of pride to preserve our money’s purchasing power instead of whittling it away via inflation).

    No other coin comes close and only the nickel, another denomination whose time has passed, can there be found with some regularity, dates prior to 1965. I don’t know what my point is, honestly, but I think it helps coin collecting tremendously to have older coins in circulation to stimulate interest. I can’t imagine Eurocents invoking that kind of pride given the oldest which can be found are dated 1999. Even countries like England, thanks to decimalization, don’t have coins older than (I think) 1971.

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