Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Union Shield

Uneventful weekend around here, with reports of tumult in exotic places -- Benghazi, Manama, Madison -- leaking in through electronic media. Also, there seems to be an election under way in Chicago, unusual because no one named Daley is on the ballot. Another thing that didn't happen here was more blizzard. I hear Minnesota and the UP got most of that; we just got a dusting of snow last night, following clouds and rain much of the rest of the weekend.

Recently I ran across a slide show on Bankrate.com -- interesting that the term "slide show" has a new lease on life, now that actual slides are relics -- called [Six] money habits that are illegal. Mostly pedestrian stuff, such as lying on a loan application or writing bad checks. But one was odd: "Color printers, scanners and copiers make it surprisingly easy for just about anyone to replicate U.S. or foreign currency," it said. "But it is, in fact, illegal to print your own money and try to spend it to buy goods or services."

Odd because who doesn't know that? And whose habit is that, anyway? Besides people who are already criminals, that is. Maybe "habit" wasn't quite the word for that headline.

At the bank today I noticed some dollar coins and half dollars in the tray, so I got some instead of one of the (genuine) paper notes I was going to ask for. "We don't have them most of the time," the teller said. "Only if someone brings them in."

I was hoping for an obscure president on the dollar coin. William Henry Harrison, maybe. Or Tyler or Taylor or Pierce. But no, I got some Lincolns, which was all he had. That's the most recent release, the last one of 2010. Not a bad coin, but he's on a lot of things. On its web site, the U.S. mint has a canned history of his presidency, most interesting for its list of "Coinage Legislation under President Abraham Lincoln." I didn't know that he signed bills authorizing mint branches in Denver, which operates to this day, and Carson City, set up to handle all the silver being mined out west in those days. Also, "Act of March 3, 1865, authorized coinage of the 3-cent piece."

Numismatic nerds, as I once was, know that that means the 3-cent nickel, since a 3-cent silver piece had first been first issued in the 1850s. Silver was in short supply due to the war, however, so nickel was the replacement, even before nickel was used in 5-cent pieces, which began in 1866 (U.S. half dimes contained silver in the mid-19th century). The U.S. 3-cent coin did not survive the 19th century, like the half cent, 2-cent and my own favorite, the 20-cent piece, which was the Susan B. Anthony dollar of its time.

The Lincoln dollar inspired me to take a closer look at the Union Shield cent now in circulation. Last year it became the permanent replacement for the Lincoln Memorial cent, something I didn't realize until a few months ago, because I'm not the numismatic nerd I once was. I like it much better than the Lincoln Memorial design. The memorial is a fine structure in situ, but that doesn't come across very well on the coin. Something like the way the reverse of the modern nickel doesn't do Monticello justice. I remember when I visited Monticello I thought, "That's the building on the nickel?"

The Union Shield design also revives a lost bit of Americana, as generally obscure now as the 3-cent nickel. The new reverse was designed by Lyndall Bass and engraved by Joseph Menna of the mint (note their initials under ONE CENT). Take a moment to look at one of the coins. The penny might not have much of a future, so it might be the last new reverse for the storied Lincoln cent.

Labels: ,


Post a Comment

<< Home