Next year marks the 200th anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln’s birth, and to honor his legacy, the U.S. mint has decided to release an update to the 100-year-old design of the existing penny coin.

The new commemorative coin will feature the same side profile of Lincoln on the front, but will have 4 alternate images on the back.

Shown above, the four images represent: (1.) Lincoln’s really depressing-looking log cabin. Jeez, you think this guy could afford a nicer house. (2.) Lincoln slacking off at work in order to ‘educate himself’. (3.) Lincoln shown to be just as tall as the Illinois State Capitol. (4.) The half-finished US Capitol dome, which was under construction during Lincoln’s tenure. I think we need more half-finished, mid-construction building images on federal money. Glorified ‘completed’ buildings and monuments are just not cool anymore.

I’m sure we’re all familiar with this scheme from the days of the ‘State Quarter’ promotion, the last of which will be released this year. It’s really just a way of getting coin collectors off into a frothy state of excitement, while at the same time turning curious people into would-be-collectors. With all sorts of related merchandise such as coin-holders and quarter maps, the Mint came up with a decent little scheme to make some money, in a non-literal sense for once.

But this new revival of the penny has many wondering if we even need the penny anymore at all. It’s a common fact that the coin costs more than 1 cent to produce, despite now being made of mostly zinc with a copper veneer. We’re literally losing money every time we make a new penny.

However, in a poll from 2006, which the LA Times quotes, over 2/3 of Americans responded that they want to keep the penny despite this. We’re just a bunch of nostalgic penny-lovers over here.

Besides, if we got rid of the penny, how would we pay for items costing an odd numbers of cents? How might I properly engage in commerce for $4.63-worth of diarrhea medicine? Well, we’d have to convert all prices to even nickel-based increments. Which is exactly what foreign US military bases around the world did in the 80s in order to save on the shipping costs for penny coins. It worked out well for them, why not us back home? Or how about we just go ahead and ban cash all together, debit and credit cards only! If you don’t have one we make you leave the country?

LAT: A new penny, but why?, September 22, 2008

US Mint: Bicentennial Cent Program, September 23, 2008