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Our least-valued coin celebrates 100 years
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You could say it's worth $1 today.

But instead, it's value is stamped into its copper coating, remaining the same from year to year.

The venerable penny, that is. It turns 100 today.

To celebrate, the U.S. Mint is introducing the third of four special-edition pennies this month to recognize Abraham Lincoln's life.

The four new designs issued this year replace the Lincoln Memorial on the reverse side of the coin. Each takes on a different theme of Lincoln's life - birth and early childhood in Kentucky, formative years in Indiana, professional life in Illinois (to be released this month) and presidency in Washington, D.C.

Two roll sets are on sale online for about $9. The different designs were created and sculpted by United States Mint sculptor-engraver Charles Vickers.

In Hiawassee, one bank is timing the release with its own 100th anniversary.

"We're giving out cards to customers with our logo that have Lincoln pennies attached," said Rebecca King, Bank of Hiawassee's senior vice president and director of marketing. "So we're putting these into circulation, but they're limited edition and people might keep them out (of circulation)."

A pain of a penny?

Often relegated to being lost in seat cushions and car cup holders, local bank associates recognize the value of the 1-cent piece.

"If we got rid of them, you couldn't make change. All the prices would have to be even," said Amanda Bowden, head teller of Regions Bank in Cornelia. "We give out more orders for pennies than any other change orders."

But for some tellers, working with all the change can be tedious.

"A lot of people bring in buckets, pails and jars full of them to our bank to get counted," said Monica Nix, marketing director for United Community Bank in Cleveland. "I've seen our tellers count until the cows come home. But it's cute when kids come in with their piggy banks and pour them out."

Could we do without it?

Two bills brought by U.S. Representative Jim Kolbe (R-Ariz.) - one in 2002 and one in 2006 - tried to eliminate the penny. But apparently other legislators didn't see the bill's value - neither made it to a vote.

Many arguments have been made for its elimination. In March 2008, it cost 1.7 cents to mint a penny, and research found that rounding would have little impact on consumers. Because pennies are not accepted by most vending machines or toll booths and aren't usually used in bulk, the argument resurfaces from time to time.

But it seems the penny has staying power for sentimental reasons - it's one of the first coins to be minted, residents of Illinois identify with it and idioms such as "give my two cents" are part of American culture.

Plus, because the penny is 97.6 percent zinc, major supplier Jarden Zinc Products also hires lobbyists to protect the penny.

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