One Million Pennies Being Given Away in Louisiana

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In celebration of the bicentennial of President Abraham Lincoln's birth and the centennial of the first Lincoln cent, New Orleans area coin dealer Paul Hollis is giving away one million pennies across Louisiana. But it's harder than you might imagine to give away $10,000, and not only because the coins weigh more than 2.5 tons.

It was the first time that a U.S. President was featured on a circulating United States coin, and it remains the longest running coin design in our country's history.

Even in tough economic times, it's hard to give away $10,000 -- in pennies.

To commemorate the 200th anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln's birth in 1809 and the 100th anniversary of the familiar Lincoln cent first issued in 1909, rare coin dealer Paul Hollis of Mandeville, Louisiana is giving away a million Lincoln cents in public places throughout Louisiana. He and volunteers began handing them out on Lincoln's birthday, February 12, and will finish the million coin giveaway on February 24 at the Argus Mardi Gras parade in New Orleans.

Hollis said he's receiving several hundred phone calls and e-mails every day with requests by the public for pennies.

But it's been harder than anticipated to give away $10,000, and not just because the million one-cent denomination coins weigh about 5,500 pounds.

"I tried for weeks to arrange for delivery of a million of the new, 2009-dated Lincoln cents that were scheduled to be released on February 12. Those have the first of four new 'tail's' side designs this year," said Hollis.

"Local bankers and the Federal Reserve Bank told me they don't expect delivery of the new pennies for weeks or even months later until the current inventory of earlier-dated one-cent coins is reduced in Southern states. So, I made arrangements to get at least some new coins from banks in another part of the country, and shipped them by armored car to the New Orleans area," explained Hollis.

"Abraham Lincoln has always been one of my favorite Presidents and this is my small way of remembering his extraordinary legacy."

In addition to those with new designs, some of the million pennies now being given away are 50 to 90 year-old collectors' coins with the original "wheat stalks" design on the tail's side.

"I think the Lincoln penny is the most important coin," said Hollis. "It was the first time that a U.S. President was featured on a circulating United States coin, and it remains the longest running coin design in our country's history."

According to the United States Mint, the four new designs on the reverse of the new pennies represent four major aspects of President Lincoln's life: his birth and childhood in Kentucky; his formative years in Indiana where he worked as a rail splitter; his professional life in Illinois; and his Presidency in Washington, D.C. It's the first major change in the cent since the Lincoln Memorial design was introduced a half-century ago in 1959.

Hollis, 36, became a collector when he was six years old after receiving an old coin from his grandmother.

"Coins are an enduring legacy of history throughout the world. You can own an original coin that was struck during the Civil War that costs less than you'd spend buying dinner. How can anyone not get excited about that?"

The approximately 2.7 (US) tons of coins are being given away by Hollis a handful-at-a-time with specially-made cloth coin "purses" that are accompanied by an illustrated, educational brochure he produced explaining the history of the Lincoln cent.    

"How many people can say they gave away 'tons of money' and really mean it? I think this is great," said Hollis.


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Donn Pearlman Public Relations
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