Skip to comments.Pennies May Soon Be a Thing of the Past
Posted on 07/02/2006 9:43:43 PM PDT by freepatriot32
PLYMOUTH, Mass. (July 2) - In this village settled by thrifty Pilgrims, you can still buy penny candy for a penny, but tourist Alan Ferguson doubts he'll be able to dig any 1-cent pieces out of his pockets.
He rarely carries pennies because "they take up a lot of room for how much value they have." Instead, like so many other Americans, he dumps his pennies into a bucket back home in Sarasota, Fla.
Pity the poor penny!
It packs so little value that merry kids chuck pennies into the fountain near the candy store, just to watch them splash and sink. Stray pennies turn up everywhere: in streets, cars, sofas, beaches, even landfills with the rest of the garbage.
A penny bought a loaf of bread in early America, but it's a loafer of a coin in an age of inflation and affluence, slowly sliding into monetary obsolescence.
For the first time, the U.S. Mint has said pennies are costing more than 1 cent to make this year, thanks to higher metal prices. "The penny is going to disappear soon unless something changes in the economics of commodities," says Robert Hoge, an expert on North American coins at The American Numismatic Society.
That very idea of spending 1.2 cents to put 1 cent into play strikes many people as "faintly ridiculous," says Jeff Gore, of Elkton, Md., founder of a little group called Citizens for Retiring the Penny.
And yet, while its profile of Abe Lincoln marks time in the bottom of drawers and ashtrays, the penny somehow carries a reassuring symbolism that Americans hesitate to forsake.
"It's part of their past, so they want to keep it in their future," says Dave Harper, editor of Numismatic News.
Gallup polling has shown that two-thirds of Americans want to keep the penny coin. There's even a pro-penny lobby called Americans for Common Cents.
The Mint's announcement is a milestone, though, because coins have historically cost less to produce than the face value paid by receiving banks. They are moneymakers for the government.
U.S. Rep. Jim Kolbe, of Arizona, wants to keep it that way. But when he asked Congress to phase out the penny five years ago he failed; he intends to try again this year. If he fails again, he joked recently, he may open a business melting down pennies to resell the metal.
The idea of a penniless society began to gain currency in 1989 with a bill in Congress to round off purchases to the nearest nickel. It was dropped, but the General Accounting Office in a 1996 report unceremoniously acknowledged that some people consider the penny a "nuisance coin."
In 2002, Gallup polling found that 58 percent of Americans stash pennies in piggy banks, jars, drawers and the like, instead of spending them like other coins. Some people eventually redeem them at banks or coin-counting machines, but 2 percent admit to just plain throwing pennies out!
"Today it's a joke. It's outlived its usefulness," says Tony Terranova, a New York City coin dealer who paid $437,000 for a 1792 penny prototype in what is believed to be the denomination's highest auction price.
"Most people find them annoying when they get them in change," he adds. "I've seen people get pennies in change and actually throw them on the floor."
Not Edmond Knowles, of Flomaton, Ala.
No, he hoarded pennies for nearly four decades as a hobby. He ended up with more than 1.3 million of them - 4.5 tons - in several drums in his garage. His bank refused to take them all at once, but he finally found a coin-counting company, Coinstar, that wanted the publicity.
In the biggest known penny cash-in ever, they sent an armored truck last year, loaded his pennies, and then watched helplessly as it sank into the mud in his yard. They needed a tow truck to redeem it. "I still got a few ruts in the yard," says Knowles.
His years of collecting brought him about $1 a day - $13,084.59 in all.
A penny saved was a penny earned for Knowles, but he took another lesson from the experience, too: "I don't save pennies anymore. It's too big a problem getting rid of them."
Another problem: deciding what to make the penny from. Copper, bronze and zinc have been used, even steel in 1943 when copper was desperately needed for the World War II effort. In 1982, zinc replaced most of the penny's copper to save money, but rising zinc prices are now bedeviling the penny again.
"I'm very surprised they haven't gone to plastic," muses Bill Johnson, a wheat-penny collector who owns the Plimoth Candy Co. (It uses an old spelling of Plymouth.)
Even in his shop where a penny still buys a Tootsie Roll, he leaves a few pennies scattered on top of the cash register for customers like Lindsay Taylor, of Westwood, who is buying $1.78 worth of candy.
She is carrying no pennies because her sons have taken them for their old-fashioned piggy banks, which automatically flip coins inside. Her 2-year-old, she says, "just loves pushing the button."
Others have their own reasons for valuing the humble coin, which borrowed its colloquial name from British currency. The "cent" - meaning 1 percent of a dollar - has been struck every year except 1815, when the United States ran out of British-made penny blanks in the wake of the War of 1812.
"It's part of the fabric of American culture," says David Early, a spokesman for the government's Lincoln Bicentennial Commission.
The penny took on the profile of President Lincoln, beloved as the Union's savior during the Civil War, on the centennial of his birth in 1909. The first ones carried ears of wheat on the tails side, but the Lincoln memorial has replaced those. Four new tails designs with themes from Lincoln's life are planned for 2009, with a fifth permanent one afterward to summarize his legacy.
This redesign, the first major one since 1959, has heartened penny lovers.
Those who want to keep the penny coin include small merchants who prefer cash transactions, contractors who help supply pennies, and consumer advocates who fear rounding up of purchases.
We think the penny is important as a hedge to inflation," says director Mark Weller of Americans for Common Cents. "Any time you have more accurate pricing, consumers benefit."
Joining with the lobby, the wireless network Virgin Mobile USA recently launched a save-the-penny campaign. Its penny truck will travel cross-country to gather pennies for charity.
Scores of charities esteem the penny, which many Americans donate without a second thought. Like shouts in a playground, pennies can multiply quickly.
"People don't like carrying them around, so we dump them into the nearest bowl," says Teddy Gross, who founded the Penny Harvest charity drive in New York City schools. "By the end of any given year, most Americans have got a stash of capital which is practically useless, but it's within easy reach of a young person."
Last year, his children raked in 55 million pennies, which had to be redeemed with help from the Brink's security company. They also bagged about 200,000 spare nickels.
By the way, the Mint says nickels are also costing more to produce than they're worth. Pity the poor nickel?
Nope it shouldn't affect sales taxes at all: we'll just add the rounding line to all cash transactions, the same way the do in Australia.
Cash register receipts down-under total up the prices, add general sales tax, then have a line which is either blank, or says 'rounding -0.02', 'rounding -0.01', 'rounding 0.01' or 'rounding 0.02', depending on the deviation from the nearest amount divisible by 5 cents Australian.
It's like having one of those 'take a penny, leave a penny' bins, with everyone required to participate.
I've been advocating it for years, and have taken to calling the little bins or cups 'Currency Reform Bins'.
If I had a dollar for every time this has been mentioned over the years...... oh never mind.
You'd round to the nearest (or, given the state, to the next highest) quintuple AFTER the tax is calculated.
Nobody would be fooled into 10 percent tax. That is wholly unnecessary whatsoever.
$.02 or less becomes $.00, $.03 or more becomes $.05.
The change (pun intended!!) would hardly be noticed.
I think the more pennies we see on the ground, it's a sign that they'll stop producing them.
Pennies are not worthless to me. They saved my life last summer, when I was without money for groceries for 3 months. The pennies and nickels I had saved and thrown in a drawer bought me bread, bologna and cheese to live on.
I'd never throw a penny away.
The US needs to do a 1 for 10 reverse split on the money. A $1 loaf of bread would be 10 "new cents" etc etc. Pennies would be useful again and more worth while to mint. Content could be "adjusted" to material costs.
It is a cent, not a "penny".
Pennies were 1/240 of a pound silver derived from the roman denarius.
Bless your heart. I'm with you....if I see a penny on the ground, I pick it up! They do add up. :)
Yes, I still pick up a penny when I find one anywhere.
This just doesn't make cents.
I was in that same financial shape not long ago. Things got better. Now when I go to the store, I usually surreptitiously scatter my change in the parking lot on the way out. You never know who it might help, and little kids still get a charge out of finding a penny or a nickel, even if we jaded grown-ups don't!
Yes. There is no one centime/rappen coin in Switzerland. The 5 is the smallest and prices are determined accordingly. Any % off sale just rounds it to 5. Big Whoop.
What we need are some dollar coins that are common and circulated.
We actually had hundreds of $ worth in jars. At 9/11 we donated them to the Red Cross so they could waste them on unneeded blood that they threw away.
(Just my 2 cents!)
I saved $50 worth of pre 1980 pennies and I thought I could cash them in to a copper recyler when the prices were high......but found out you can't destroy US coins or paper ......