1.67 cents for your thoughts


Next year will be the 200th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birth. It will also be the 100th anniversary of the Lincoln penny, first minted in 1909. If it lives that long.

Lately, there are renewed cries for its demise. First, I saw an article in the New York Times last week. Then there was a commentary on NPR this week. And their arguments are sound enough, I guess. First, what can you buy for a penny these days? Nothing. In fact, the government can’t even buy a penny for a penny these days—in the last fiscal year, it cost them 1.67¢ to produce one.

But while I’m the first to admit I hate it when too many pennies find their way into my pocket change, I’m not so ready to see them go away. First, its demise would be license for everyone in the retail supply chain to round up their prices. A little plastic doodad that a manufacturer charges a distributor 32¢ for, for instance—think he’ll round down to 30¢? Right. Then the distributor rounds up as he marks it up for the retailer, who rounds up as he sells it to you. Suddenly, the death of the penny has cost you a dime.

And if the penny goes away, what’s to protect the nickel? This 5-cent piece currently costs the government 9.5¢ to produce, an even worse bargain than the penny.

On a less practical level, but just as important—and maybe more so—I like carrying around a portrait of our greatest president. It’s nice to have this constant, tangible, reassuring reminder of great leadership, particularly these days.

By the way, that building on the back of the penny is the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC. You probably knew that. But did you know that if you look at it closely with a magnifying glass, you can see the seated statue of Lincoln in the middle? When I first found that out as a kid, I thought it was really, really cool. I still do.

But even if the penny survives, that feature is doomed. As the Times article states, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Lincoln penny, “The United States Mint plans to issue four new designs for the penny’s reverse side, each representing a different phase of Lincoln’s life.”

Maybe it’s time to say goodbye to the penny after all.

4 Responses to “1.67 cents for your thoughts”

  1. Helmut Says:

    Before the Lincoln Memorial there were laurel leaves on the back side. Collected pennies as a youngster. Still have an uncirculated 1909 dvd. I enjoyed the silver dollars and have dollars with their wonderful art figures. Also the old nickels with the Indian head. Mercury dimes also were beautiful. And then these coins had an actual silver value. A sad comment on the constant course of Gov induced inflation. I really notice the complete collapse of the dollar here in Europe.

  2. Terry B Says:

    Speaking of coin collecting, I remember seeing a Roman coin in some random flea market outside St. Louis. As I remember, it was maybe 20 or 30 bucks. I don’t collect coins, but the idea of having something like that around the house just to touch that bit of history was appealing. I didn’t buy it, though. As Steven Wright says, “You can’t have everything. Where would you keep it?”

  3. Toni Says:

    I think I saw a piece on 60 minutes about this. It blew my mind when I discovered that they were actually made of zinc, not copper!

    I dump all my change into a jar, but that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate pennies. And yes, everyone would definitely be rounding up. And once more, things would get “easier”, meaning we’d have to think less. Is this actually good?

    I know, I know….It’s an economic thing….But then again, so is public transportation, like subways. They don’t make money either, but is anyone calling for them to be dumped because of that?

  4. Terry B Says:

    Toni—Well, they are copper coated, just not solid copper. And the annoying thing for me when people complain about mass transit, including the perennially beleaguered Amtrak, being “subsidized” by tax dollars. What about the highways for their precious gas-guzzling SUVs? Those don’t just magically grow and self heal. All of these things are part of what a government does, taking care of the needs of its people. This is why we pay taxes.

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