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The Humble Penny

John W. Pinkerton


When was the last time you picked up a penny lying on the ground?  I do it all the time.  I get the impression that for some folks it’s not worth bending over to retrieve a lonely little penny lost and just lying there…alone, waiting for someone to claim it.

I guess that’s a bit of a romantic view of a penny, but I’ve always…no, usually been pretty careful about money…including pennies.  I definitely appreciate every coin I have.

If Christopher Columbus would have invested in 1492, a big year for Chris, one penny in a 6% interest–bearing account and never touched the interest, he would now have $121,096,709,346.21.  Of course you won’t live for 517 years, but I think you get my point: a penny has a lot of potential.

Throughout history pennies have been made of gold, silver, and bronze.   As we know, a penny is a coin used in several English-speaking countries…often the smallest denomination within a currency system.

The US penny was named after the British penny.  Today pennies are copper plated zinc.  The first US penny was minted in 1787; it was made of pure copper and designed by Benjamin Franklin.  The
Lincoln penny, the one issued today, was the first US coin featuring a President.  It was first issued in 1909, the 100th anniversary of Lincoln’s birth.  It replaced the “Indian Head” penny.  In 1943, the coin was made of steel with a zinc coating because copper was needed for the war effort.

Today there are about 150 billion pennies in circulation.

Of course, the penny has worked its way into our language.  I believe most of us recognize the meanings of the expressions in the list below.  If you don’t, look them up.

bad penny

bad penny always turns up

cost a pretty penny

cut someone off without a penny

I felt like a penny waiting for change.

penny for your thoughts

penny saved is a penny earned

penny-wise and pound-foolish

not have two pennies to rub together

a penny for your thoughts

cost (somebody) a pretty penny

in for a penny, (in for a pound).

penny ante

The most common synonyms for penny are “cent” and “red cent.”

The average penny lasts 25 years.  There have been 11 different designs featured on the penny.  Lincoln faces to the right on the penny; all other
portraits on our coins face to the left.  The penny was the first US coin to feature the phrase “In God We Trust.”  US mints produce approximately 30 million pennies each day.  The Indian Head penny was made from 1859 to 1909.  The US penny was once nearly the size of a half dollar.

There seems to be a lot of talk about doing away with the US penny altogether.  Each penny cost 1.83 cents to make: it obviously is a government run program.  Obama seems to be pushing for the end of the penny. “This is not going to be a huge savings
for government. But anytime we’re spending more money on something that people don’t actually use, that’s an example of something we should probably change,” he said. “One of the things that you see chronically in government is it’s very hard to get rid of things that don’t work so that we can then invest in the things that do.”

How ironic.  Maybe we should produce an Obama penny; it would be appropriate considering that he’s a President who costs more than he’s worth.

I looked around the internet to see what one could purchase for a penny.  The consensus seemed to be only a one-cent stamp.  However, on further inspection I found at Amazon.com Dance the Macarena (used VHS) for a penny and Paparazzi Shades for just  one cent, and a “Cubic Zirconia Princess Cut 925 Sterling Silver Stud Earring” for a penny.  Heck, my Christmas shopping is done.