by Fred Collins
Now a museum, the old store in Cypress Top Historic Park was in operation when the railroad was completed to that location in 1856. It is interesting to consider what pennies have been used in the store during the ensuing years. In 1856, pennies were large and worth a considerable amount. They had such buying power that the U.S. government also made ½ cent coins in that era. The one-cent coins of that era were 27.5 millimeters in diameter and had a weight of 10.89 grams of copper. Today it would be worth about 5.3 cents in copper value. By comparison, today’s quarter is 24.3 millimeters, weighs only 5.67 grams and has only about 3 cents worth of metal value.
Things changed in 1857 when the small cent similar to the one we have today was introduced. It was a flying eagle one-cent piece that was soon replaced with the Indian-head design minted between 1859 and 1909, The Indian-head was extremely popular, especially with people who lived back East and not on the frontier. The noble Indians were romanticized and commercialized as with cigar store Indians, Indian maiden calendars, Big Chief writing tablets and Wild West shows. As with most coins, they were also profitable to the maker as their stated value was greater than the cost of material and manufacturing. The one-cent coin was in its prime.
Then the Lincoln cent was introduced in 1909. This coin would remain unchanged for 50 years as had the Indian-head piece. I often wonder how the people in southern states felt about this coin, which was issued fewer than 40 years after the Civil War ended. Many war veterans were still accustomed to giving their grandchildren a one-cent coin, since it still bought a nice piece of candy or gum. The Lincoln cent was modified in 1959, and the Lincoln Memorial was added to the reverse. The Lincoln portrait remained on the obverse, unchanged from previous years. This coin, too, lasted for 50 years. In 2009, a unique Bicentennial design was minted and the following year, the coin had a Union Shield placed on the reverse. This coin continues to be minted today. The Lincoln cents were mostly copper until 1982, except for 1943 when they were made out of steel to allow the copper to be used in the war effort. Today our one-cent coins are zinc with a copper plating. It costs the U.S. government 1.7 cents to manufacture each one-cent coin. Let’s hope the federal government does not continue to make the current design for 50 more years. Besides, just what can you buy for a penny today? The bright shiny one-cent piece in your pocket will soon be history.
If you would like to learn more about Texas or Cypress history, please visit Commissioner Steve Radack’s Cypress Top Historic Park at 26026 Old Hempstead Highway. The park is open daily from dawn to 7 p.m. The museum buildings are open on Tuesdays from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. To arrange a special tour, please contact the park at firstname.lastname@example.org or 281-357-5324. The park is home to the Cypress Historical Society, which has genealogy and historical information for the greater Cypress area. Look for the “California Poppy” yellow train depot in the back of the park; hours are Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Contact them at email@example.com or 281-758-0083. If you have questions or comments about this article, contact Fred Collins at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Historical facts courtesy of Cypress Top Historic Park Collection & Cypress Historical Society: Preserving Cypress History for Posterity.