The Lincoln Cent was introduced in 1909 and minted each year until 1958 with the “Wheat Ears” reverse design. It represented the first U.S. coin issued for general circulation to depict the likeness of an actual person, as all previous series had depicted various renderings of Liberty. Lincoln Wheat Cents are one of the most widely collected U.S. coin series. Many collectors got their start assembling sets from circulation and later moved on to other series and higher grade coins.
New York sculptor and medalist Victor David Brenner was the designer of the original Lincoln Cent. The obverse of the coin features a bust of Abraham Lincoln adapted with minor changes from a plaque prepared by Brenner in 1907. The 16th President is facing to the right from the viewers point of view. The motto “IN GOD WE TRUST” appears above the portrait with “LIBERTY” to the left and the date and mint mark to the right.
Brenner’s original reverse design features a pair of wheat stalks with the denomination “ONE CENT” and “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA” appearing within the stalks. Above the denomination the Latin words “E PLURIBUS UNUM” appear. The original galvanos that had been used to show the design included the sculptor’s last name “BRENNER” in small block letters on the reverse. Treasury officials requested it to be removed, and the initials “V.D.B.” were placed in the same position instead.
These initials still created a firestorm of protest, as the public concluded that they were too prominently visible. Press coverage was immense during the first week of August, when the new cents were released, and the initials were soon removed. Removing the initials during the year served to create the famous key date 1909-S V.D.B. Lincoln Cent. Ultimately, the initials reappeared in 1918, although much smaller and barely visible on the truncation of Lincoln’s shoulder. The initials have continued to be featured in the same position ever since.
The Wheat Cent was produced at all three Mints in use at the time, Philadelphia, Denver, and San Francisco. Production was generally the highest at the Philadelphia Mint, and smaller at the branch Mints. As a result, most of the scarcer issues of the series were produced at one of the two branch-Mints.