- The Washington Times - Friday, February 13, 2009

The Abraham Lincoln brand is in fine fettle these days, bolstered by presidential admiration and civic pride among towns claiming a link to the Lincoln pedigree.

Then there are the new pennies. Four revamped Lincoln cent designs were unveiled Thursday to mark the 200th birthday of the 16th president, featuring Capitol buildings in Illinois and Washington, a log cabin and a young Lincoln sprawled on a stump, reading.

It was a “milestone moment,” said Andrew D. Brunhart, deputy director of U.S. Mint. “The coin is a tribute to a humble man who rose to great heights living by principles of honesty, integrity and loyalty, principles that never go out of fashion.”

Penny haters don’t dispute that. They love Lincoln. It’s the zinc lobby they’re after.

As an “act of civil disobedience” among the scones, Concord Teacakes became the first retailer in the nation Thursday to refuse to accept pennies as payment, rounding down all transactions to bypass small change.

“We believe that Lincoln himself would support our emancipation from the slavery of the mining lobby, which is behind the continued minting of pennies,” said Al Lewis, who organized the protest in the historic Massachusetts town with bakery owner Judy Fersch. A half dozen neighboring businesses have joined in.

Pennies at the cash register wastes time, and time is money, Mr. Lewis said, adding that there’s an excess of 3,000 pennies per American, prompting people to horde the coins - or throw them away.

Such anti-penny sentiment has been in circulation for more than a decade, prompted by critics who claim that minting a penny cost more than 1 cent, due to the rising price of zinc used in manufacturing.

But penny allure has prevailed.

Since 1989, anti-penny legislation that supported rounding off transactions failed three times in Congress. Gallup and other pollsters also found that the penny remained dear to Americans; majorities consistently declared the cent “useful.”

Mr. Lewis, meanwhile, marveled over national press inquiries he’s received.

“This goes way beyond pennies. It comes down to the question, ‘Can the government shoot straight?’ To right this situation, we’d only need just one executive signature,” Mr. Lewis said. “And we still honor Lincoln. We use $5 bills.”

Some dismiss the whole idea.

“We make no secret that one of our major sponsors is a company that makes the zinc ‘blanks’ for pennies,” said Mark Weller, executive director of Americans for Common Cents, a pro-penny interest group.

“People are counting their change more than ever in these economically tough times. The idea that we should eliminate the penny by rounding off transactions to the nearest nickle is absurd. Price rounding is bad for consumers and bad for the economy,” Mr. Weller said.

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