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Two Views of Lincoln's Face

2009 Penny Reverses Show Phases of Lincoln's Life

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A detail image showing Lincoln's face as depicted by the coin designers.

Images courtesy of the United States Mint

As this image gallery demonstrates, the new 2009 penny designs are intended to show four different phases of Abraham Lincoln's life. Lincoln himself is only depicted in two of the designs, the second and third. I've shown the whole design on the top, to give perspective, with an enlargement of Lincoln's face below each design. The one on the left, from Lincoln's formative years, was drawn by Charles Vickers. The one on the right was drawn by Joel Iskowitz.

The third coin in this series is my favorite, by far. When you look at the image of Lincoln, you can see that Iskowitz has somehow magically conveyed the hopes and dreams of a confident, but perhaps still uncertain young man. Lincoln stands with his arm out to command your attention without demanding it, while the hand behind his back shows an artful combination of openness and a hint of insecurity. We see Lincoln as the human being he was, with foibles and fears and hopes and dreams, rather than as the stern-faced, bearded icon that we know from our currency. In the enlargement of Lincoln's face, especially in the eyes, Iskowitz has captured the emotion that Lincoln felt when he gave his "House Divided" speech at the Illinois Statehouse in 1858. Too bad this wonderful face will be so teeny on the finished coin that we'll hardly see the beauty here.

Contrast Iskowitz's "fiery young orator" Lincoln with Charles Vickers' portrait (left image) of Lincoln reading as a youth. Vickers tells his story in the overall body language, rather than in the details of the face; Lincoln is depicted as a sensitive young man, given more to books and studying than the physical toil of log-splitting. Where are the muscles a manual laborer doing this work would have? Vickers' Lincoln is clearly just passing through the log-splitting job, taking a break, as it were, from Lincoln's real life work, which was primarily intellectual rather than physical. Although the Mint artists have very little, if any, say in what overall designs they must create, I would like to have seen Lincoln as the Mississippi riverboat hand or frontier shopkeeper, rather than splitting logs, a role that I think ill-defines him compared to the other jobs he held in his youth.

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