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A penny saved is probably collectible. February 7, 2013

Posted by ourfriendben in Ben Franklin, wit and wisdom.
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It’s me, Richard Saunders of Poor Richard’s Almanac fame, here today to talk about whether making cents makes sense. Canada has decided to officially retire its penny this month, making Canadian 2013 pennies automatically collectible for small-change enthusiasts like your truly. Next time a clerk hands you a Canadian penny with your change, think twice about complaining!

This once again raises the question of the continuing production of U.S. cents. The cost of the metals (mostly zinc) used to produce today’s pennies have risen above the face value of the penny itself: It now costs 2.41 cents to make each 1-cent coin. (To put this in perspective, consider a gold coin with a face value of $20, now valued for its gold content at between $1,000 and $2,000, depending on the market.)

Congress has repeatedly tried to do away with the penny and make the nickel the lowest-value piece of change in circulation. But the uproar raised by coin collectors has so far kept the penny in circulation. As a collector, I’m all for the penny. But as a realist, I can’t imagine that its days aren’t numbered.

Collecting today’s pennies is a bit of an issue, I’ll admit. Even if you find some spanking-new, brilliantly lustered pennies in your pocket or at your bank, I’ve noticed that they quickly develop disfiguring spots, something I’ve never seen on older pennies. Once that happens, all they’re fit for is pocket change. Rats! Let’s hope that doesn’t happen to the pennies in collector proof sets. (Mind you, perhaps they’re just responding to the humid air in my apartment and your pennies wouldn’t spot up like mine.)

At any rate, the only modern pennies that will ever have any real monetary value are the “errors,” those that somehow got messed up during the minting process and weren’t caught by the mint before being released. This rarely happens with any coin, which is why collectors love error coins. (Examples would be coins that are struck twice, creating a double image; coins with two fronts or two backs; coins struck off-center; coins with one date superimposed on another; and coins struck on the wrong planchet, the blank metal disk that becomes a coin when struck with the machine dies to stamp the coin. A dime pattern struck on a penny planchet would be an example of this.)

Valuable or not, I find collecting pennies fun, whether they’re the multi-patterned new Lincoln cents, the old “wheat ears” Lincolns, the “silver” war pennies, the classic Indian head pennies, or the 50-cent-sized, heavy old pennies that go clear back to the early days of our Republic, when, as our hero and blog mentor Benjamin Franklin noted, a penny was really worth something. In less-good grades, and with the exception of rarities, they’re affordable for everyone, something that certainly can’t be said about many collectible coins. (And of course, modern pennies are very affordable in the best grades, which means in the most perfect condition.) Not to mention that, every once in awhile, you might still turn up a “wheat ears” penny in pocket change! Try doing that with a silver dime or quarter.

So what’s your view? Keep the penny or kill it? I’d love to hear from you!


Richard Saunders