WASHINGTON, DC—Following the success of its 50 State Quarters program—deemed one of the most popular commemorative-coin programs in American history—the U.S. Mint announced its next ambitious project: releasing a unique penny for every county in the nation.
"Located in the first state in the union, Delaware's Kent County will be the first county honored in this grand celebration of America," U.S. Mint Director Henrietta Holsman Fore said Monday. "But over the coming years, citizens all across the nation will see the best aspects of their own counties celebrated on the obverse side of a penny. Collecting all 3,143 county pennies will be a fun activity your family will enjoy for generations."
Starting in 2006, the U.S. Mint will release five new pennies per year for the next 629 years. While the process will be a long one, residents of the nation's 3,143 counties and county equivalents have already begun debating how their regions should be depicted.
"I hope they get the old stone water tower just right," Ypsilanti, MI resident Gina Dalton said. "It's the most well-known landmark in Washtenaw County, so it's definitely what they should use."
While Fore agreed that Ypsilanti's historic water tower—completed in 1890, boasting an 85-foot-tall base made of Joliet limestone, and standing at the important intersection of Route 17 and West Cross Street—is a good suggestion, she cautioned Washtenaw County residents that their penny is scheduled for release in 2315.
"We're encouraging counties, especially those beyond the first 50 or so, to think creatively to find a truly unique representative icon for their penny," Fore said. "Water towers—along with mountains, covered bridges, and lighthouses—will be among the first images to get snapped up. We'll need to see some shoe factories and cell-phone towers, too."
Residents of Loving County, TX, population 67, are taking no chances. They have already tendered their penny's design, which features the Johnson family's round barn, the only structure of note in the vicinity. Residents said they plan to hold annual bake sales to maintain the building until the penny is released in 2371.
Richland Center, WI resident Tom McCrary said he is anticipating his penny's 2433 release.
"Richland County is best known for its apple harvest, dairy farms, and the rock bridge," McCrary said. "But after the lesson of the New Hampshire quarter, I'm not too comfortable putting a natural rock formation on our penny. Luckily, we have another 438 years to decide on a symbol that accurately conveys the spirit of Richland County."
Some U.S. citizens, particularly those in coastal regions, have raised concerns that their counties may never get a chance to be represented, due to rising water levels and tectonic shifts.
Citizens of Alaska and Louisiana have expressed worries that they may not be represented at all.
"I have spoken to numerous concerned Alaska and Louisiana citizens, and I tell them all the same thing: Settle down," Fore said. "Although they are technically called the county pennies, the coins will certainly include Alaska's census areas, Louisiana's parishes, and independent cities like St. Louis and the District of Columbia."
"County equivalents are part of our rich national tapestry," Fore added.
Fore also addressed worries that the penny may be out of use before the last counties are represented.
"You have to keep your eye on the big picture—this is about Americans connecting with America through numismatics," Fore said. "Don't count the penny out so fast. This may be just the thing to get people excited about the penny all over again."
The U.S. Mint has designed a folder for collecting and displaying the county pennies. The cardboard murals, measuring 8 feet by 35 feet, will be available at most Walgreens stores, or directly from the Mint by mail for $4.95 plus $179 for postage and handling.