I was at the store with my daughter the other day and at the checkout, the cashier asked if I had two pennies.
I searched my wallet and the black hole of my purse and discovered I did not.
On leaving, my daughter asked why we still have pennies.
I seemed to remember a few years ago when there was talk of doing away with the penny since most of us don’t really spend them, we just seem to collect them in jars.
Once in Atlanta, a homeless man asked me for some money and I emptied my car ashtray out and gave it all to him. It was all the money I had with me and much of the change were pennies. He was unimpressed with the pennies and proceeded to throw the change onto the sidewalk.
It’s sort of sad that times have changed so much with regard to the penny. Besides the fact that it won’t really buy anything on its own, think about all of the sayings from yesteryear that don’t seem to apply anymore.
"A penny for your thoughts," would pretty much be an insult today, wouldn’t it?
What about, "Find a penny, pick it up, all day long you’ll have good luck."
I’m fairly sure most people wouldn’t even bother picking up a penny if they saw it on the street.
I remember when two pennies bought a piece of bubble gum. That certainly meant you noticed a penny on the ground and felt rich (and lucky) when you spotted one.
There’s also the saying, "Pennies from heaven." What does that even mean?
I decided to do a little research about the history of our lowest form of currency and found out plenty of interesting information.
The 1-cent coin was first authorized to be minted in 1787, and it was the first currency of any type to be authorized by the United States. That certainly elevates its status, wouldn’t you say?
Benjamin Franklin suggested its original design, which shouldn’t surprise anybody since Ben seemed to do pretty much everything back then.
Paul Revere wasn’t just warning everybody about the British either. Apparently he was a noted silversmith and supplied some of the copper for the pennies that were minted in the 1790s.
The original penny was about five times heavier than our current one and about 50 percent bigger.
Since 1787, more than 300 billion pennies with 11 different designs have been minted. While the first penny was 100 percent copper, it changed over the years due to wars and shortages.
During the Civil War, Union soldiers were paid with 1-cent coins, and after the war, the composition of the coin was changed to 95 percent copper and 5 percent zinc. In 1856, the composition was changed to 88 percent copper and 12 percent nickel.
In 1909, to commemorate his 100th birthday, Abraham Lincoln became the first historic person to grace the front of the penny. That was also the first time the words, "In God We Trust" appeared on the coin. Again, these are all things that should set the penny apart from other coins.
The U.S. Mint says that the average lifespan of our coins is between 25 and 30 years in circulation.
If all of this fascinates you, you should consider becoming a numismatist. That’s a collector of and student of money, coins in particular.
All of that being said, I found it rather refreshing that just last week a penny sold at the Florida United Numismatists convention for more than $1 million.
Apparently, the penny was in "mint" condition because it was not in circulation.
Now that I know more about the history of the penny, I have more respect for it. I promise to always stop and pick up any that I see on the ground.
Adlen Robinson is author of "Home Matters: The Guide to Organizing Your Life and Home." E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.