All of a Penny’s Details

Tobias Frere-Jones:

To accommodate the escalating price of copper, the Mint changed the penny’s composition in 1983, from 95% copper to almost entirely zinc, with a thin coat of copper to retain the traditional color. The change in material also reduced the coin’s weight by 20 percent, inadvertently dramatizing its dwindling value. At about the same time, the dies were made shallower to reduce wear, flattening the coin overall. The figures became lighter and more monotone, losing the modeled quality of sculpture. The trend towards flatter surfaces has gradually continued since then, and now a penny feels more like a laser print than the tiny sculpture it actually is.

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