For the love of Lincoln

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U.S. Mint releases special pennies commemorating stages of Abe's life

By Linda Ireland

About 80 LaRue Countians attended the third Lincoln Bicentennial One-Cent Coin release in Springfield, Ill., Aug. 13.

Although the ceremony lasted only 30 minutes, most stood in line for hours to receive rolls of newly minted pennies honoring native son Abraham Lincoln.

In all, about 2,000 people crowded the lawn surrounding the historic Old State Capitol for the event, according to Jana Prewitt, public affairs officer for the U.S. Mint.

Twenty thousand rolls of pennies honoring Lincoln’s professional life in Illinois were exchanged at the 10 a.m. ceremony.

The reverse of the penny shows the 16th President delivering a speech outside the Old State Capitol where he served as legislator. It’s the third of four new pennies honoring Lincoln this year. The first, representing the Kentucky birthplace cabin, was released in Hodgenville Feb. 12 with 1,500 attending. The second was released in Indiana in May with about 3,000 attending.

Edmund C. Moy, director of the U.S. Mint, who spoke at the ceremony, said the mint will produce 319 million of the new coins.

The mint has already created 1.3 billion of the first two Lincoln coins – both of which have sold out on its Web site. Boxes of 50 rolls of cabin pennies are still available through Ebay, the online auction site, for more than double the original price. The Illinois pennies are still available online through the mint – two rolls for $8.95 plus shipping.

Moy, when asked about the scarcity of the first two coins, said he doesn’t think people are “hoarding” them. While many people are “collecting and keeping” them, “there’s a bigger picture going on with the slow economy.” There are fewer transactions and less need for the pennies. The mint is at a 40-year low in production of all coins, he said.

Many of those in attendance weren’t taking any chances on obtaining the coins.

Les Claycomb Jr. of Springfield and his granddaughter Emily Claycomb of Edinburg, Ill., were the first in line, arriving at 10 p.m. Aug. 12.

Emily spent the night in the car while Les held their place in front of the capitol gate.

“I just stayed up all night,” said Les, looking a bit bleary-eyed. He said he “tried to get to Hodgenville” for the first unveiling but had car problems.

“I ordered a set of the (cabin) pennies from the mint,” he said.

James and Phyllis Jeffries were the first of the Hodgenville group to arrive at the Old State Capitol Thursday morning. The Jeffries and about 40 others arrived in Springfield by chartered bus Wednesday night. Immediately after their arrival, they toured several sites including the Lincoln Tomb. But Thursday morning, they were prepared for pennies.

“We got in line about 10 ‘til six,” said James Jeffries. “But there were already hundreds in line.”

Families brought chairs, picnic lunches and games for their children as they prepared to stand in line for hours. Temperatures were mild in the morning but heated up to the mid-80s as the afternoon wore on. Some shade and water was available, but mostly, the crowd simply “toughed it out.”

Springfield police officers said they had expected a crowd of 3,000 to 5,000. Before the ceremony, mint representatives speculated they might have to restrict the number of coin rolls available to four per person. The smaller crowd meant that each person could purchase a maximum of six rolls each

“Many attendees were able to obtain more than six rolls by going through the line multiple times,” said Prewitt. It took about an hour to wait in line per each coin roll exchange.

At Thursday’s launch, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois called the pennies “tiny but heartfelt symbols” of Lincoln’s legacy. Some people in line echoed that sentiment, stating they wanted the pennies as collectibles or keepsakes for their children.

Others were simply in it for the money.

One collector said he planned to sell individual pennies for $1.50 at a flea market. Another was going to try his luck at selling the rolls on Ebay.

One man stood on the sidewalk near the end of the line, suitcase in hand, and propositioned those who had purchased coins. He offered $10 per roll of new pennies. Most people ignored him.

Dozens of white plastic chairs were set up for the ceremony – but few took advantage of them. Most people chose to keep their spot in line and several admitted they didn’t “really listen” to the speakers at the ceremony. They were interested only in getting the new coins.

The exchange lasted until about 2 p.m. when the supply of coin rolls was exhausted. It was a stark contrast to the Hodgenville exchange when those attending were able to go through the line several times and even purchase pennies by the box rather than by the roll.

Many Springfield residents were surprised by the long lines in front of the capitol building and later, at the Springfield Post Office where collectors had coin rolls canceled by the postmaster as proof they were at the event. Some walked up to ask, “What’s going on?” while others slowed their cars to talk to pedestrians.

Claycomb said he had kept up with the coin release program since February, but it wasn’t heavily promoted in the city. Other events in Springfield overshadowed it including the twilight parade later that day and the Illinois State Fair.

“I saw a couple of articles in the newspaper about it, but that’s all,” he said.

The fourth penny, to be released in November, will celebrate Lincoln’s time as president.