A cute little plate on our kitchen counter top is obscured by the pennies it holds. Inevitably, the pennies mount up. If I changed every penny in that bowl into dollars I’d have… about a dollar. At times I’ve had more pennies in that bowl, maybe 200 or 250 pennies.
That many pennies get in the way. You can’t see the dimes and the nickels after a while, and that’s too bad because they’re so much easier to spend than the pennies. You reach in there, unlooking, to load your pocket with coins and come up with 27 or 32 cents, consisting maybe of a dime, a nickel; the rest are pennies.
At the Sprouts, the bill is $18.72. Big deal. You got rid of two cents. You hold on to a quarter and a nickel and go home with most of the pennies you brought with you hoping to get rid of them.
Pennies don’t BUY anything.
Put one in a parking meter and you’re more likely to get a laughter sound track than a minute’s worth of time. No one asks $5,245.78 for a restored Chevy Blazer, or, say, $2.07 for a small bunch of carrots at a farmer’s market; they ask $5,246 for the Chevy, or $2.00 for the carrots
Do you have the nerve to offer tthe pennies in your pocket to the outstretched hand of the homeless? Should you have the nerve?
Pennies don’t make sense for ordinary people like us.
They are worthless even to those of us who are on its putative level; the poor. If John and Tiffany are forced by foreclosure to abandon their Clairemont home and hold a yard sale to raise the money to get back to Oklahoma, or Kansas, where they started out, they don’t rush off to the bank to get a roll of pennies so they can make change.
Poor people don’t give a damn about pennies.
It’s a symbol, nothing more. It costs more to make it than it is worth in the marketplace. In 2011 the U.S. Mint said it cost 2.4 cents to print and distribute the penny; lately their estimate of cost has dropped to 1.83 cents, due to a relaxation of metal prices and some other savings.
Barak Obama got nowhere when last year he first tried to convince the nation to stop making it. All he did was to stimulate the production of an article, “Don’t You Dare Eliminate The Penny,” in Forbes magazine later that year.
Forbes is the business magazine that every year puts out a list of the world’s richest people, a list that Malcolm Forbes never allowed his own name to appear on, though Time estimated him to be worth up to $1 Billion when he died back in the early 90s.
His son, Steve, inherited the magazine and everything else, then ran for President in 1996 and again in 2000, unsuccessfully. His reign at the magazine was equally undistinguished . About the time the staff was declaring “Don’t You Dare…” it was announced that Steven had given up the editorship. Shortly later stories appeared all over the publishing world that the magazine was up for sale.
Under his editorship the magazine’s earnings before interest, depreciation, taxes (and … something else that starts with the letter “a” and which I’ve never understood) had fallen to a mere $4.1 million. Steve the Son had been taking a $1.2 million annual salary for reducing the magazine’s income, and estimates of his own net worth were at around something less than half that of his father’s.
About the time the staff was declaring “Don’t You Dare…” it was announced that Steven had given up the editorship. Shortly later stories appeared all over the publishing world that the magazine was up for sale. (As of this month it still hadn’t sold.)
But Steve Forbes and company had been saying. “Don’t You Dare Eliminate The Penny.”
The best the writer could do was argue that the metal in coins is what establishes the dollar’s value; after all, the dollar’s only paper. But if that were true the dollar would today buy almost twice as much as it did before it cost 183 cents to stamp the penny out, mostly from zinc (it’s only copper plated now), and get it distributed into the economy.
There must something beyond the penny’s physical attributes that endears it so much to the rich. Maybe it’s an emotional thing. Maybe the penny reminds rich people of when they (their grandfathers, really) didn’t have enough of them or — as they used to say – didn’t have two pennies to rub together. (The “pot to piss in” came later, but it cost more than two pennies.)
The guy who wrote the Forbes article got somewhat upset. “John D. Rockefeller must be rolling in his grave. He used to give out shiny new dimes to lads and lassies (in his employ) for a job well done.” That was back when a dime was worth $2 in today’s money! Hell, I’d even take one today.
But we’re talking about pennies, not dimes. Why do we get into trouble with rich people for wanting to get the penny out of our way? There must be something religious about the penny, or something like that.
To get at what I’m thinking, I have to talk about language.
There might be some old goth white fantasies at work here. Even though origins of the word, “penny” are fairly mysterious (It’s got Old French peni, and old English pening, and Old Norse penninggr in its history… so the Old French, meaning Norman has a lot going for it. The old Germans coined their version, “pfennig.” But the Danes, the Dutch and Angles and Saxons all have a claim on “penny” so it comes down to being a … white word.
Nothing can ignite hard white pulsations like the gothic imagery of red-haired, steel-chested warriors throwing flaming buckets of toxins at the Romans. The Roman word for the penny was, by the way, denarius, like de nada. When they went East the word became “dinar.” But in the West the word was “penny.”
What does the word “penury” suggest to you? Complete, abject poverty. Peons (they travel “on foot” or “a pie”) can have the pennies.
Poor people don’t give a damn about pennies. So why do rich ones?
They need us to have the pennies, so they can have the dollars.
John Lawrence says
At least we don’t have the ha’penny. Do the English still have one? As in the old rhyme:
Christmas is coming
The goose is getting fat
Please to put a penny in an old man’s hat.
If you haven’t got a penny, a ha’penny will do
If you haven’t got a ha’penny
God bless you.
Maybe this BBC News article might help answer that question:
bob dorn says
Canadians also gave up their (full) penny years ago. It should be pointed out, I suppose, that the Anglos invented the word, “penny” and its plural “pence.” I
still don’t get why the Anglos in the U.S. are so fond of it.
Frank Gormlie says
Bob – Cute post; on occasion I’ll roll up my pennies and actually use the rolls to buy stuff, like gas. But don’t take rolled pennies to the Post Office – they’re not accepted. I kid you not. I tried it, tried to buy stamps with rolled up pennies, 50 cents to a roll, and I was told that the PO does NOT accept them – of all places – because they’d have to unroll them and count each one! Pennies are federal and so are post offices. Why can’t the two meet? Private businesses will accept rolled up pennies, and so will my poker buddies – if they’re rolled up.
Brent E. Beltrán says
Don’t roll them up when you go to the post office. Drop them on the counter and have them count them out. They have to accept them. They’re legal tender.
Frank Gormlie says
Hell, even my poker buddies won’t accept them unrolled.
Just another example of why the postal “service” is losing money like crazy. They have ZERO concept of customer service.
bob dorn says
Try taking your penny rolls to UPS and FedX.
Frank Gormlie says
No, no; I totally support the postal service. It – like any large bureaucracy – suffers from top-d0wn decision-making. But what would the price of a piece of mail mailed from coast to coast cost from a for-profit corporation? A lot more – dollars, no doubt.
And it’s not the post office that is losing money; it’s the unique restrictions placed on it by a right-wing Congressional majority hoping it will fall – allowing private companies to pick up the pieces.
bob dorn says
Agreed. The P.O. has to fund its pension plan something like 10 years in advance. That reduces its useful income, its equipment quality levels and ad budget, as it tries to live on this regimen, passed in a Republican sponsored bill a few years back. No other agency of government has to live under this burden , and FedX and UPS are businesses that don’t have to live up the advance funding requirement. They’re probably investing their capital in stocks and bonds, and hoping there isn’t a crash that catches their businesses by surprise. l
Yes, the PO is shackled by those unfair pension funding requirements.
AND they also have zero concept of customer service. They’re like AT&T before the break-up: we don’t care; we don’t have to.
Frank, If they hadn’t had the ‘leg up’ of having been a federal mail monopoly for two centuries, they wouldn’t be able to furnish mail services as cheaply as they do.
Dave Rice says
I save all my change (and soda cans, and the occasional single or fiver) and cash it all in once a year to hopefully score a few hundred bucks for a family vacation. Last year we took a road trip up the coast and visited friends in Humboldt for a couple days.
I’ll spend a couple evenings rolling the nickels, dimes, and quarters, but for the pennies I’ll pay the scalping machine at the grocery store to count them for me…
Anna Daniels says
Bob– a fun romp through history & language. A penny for your thoughts? Pennies from heaven? See a penny, pick it up, all the day you’ll have good luck? These sayings provide insight into the value of a penny in past times. Today, the collective term for your overflowing plate (and my coffee cans) should be a plague of pennies.
A visit to Dunkin’ Donuts with the grandchildren – they could have as many donuts as they wanted but one at a time. When the eldest was ready for his second donut, grandpa gave him the dollar required. “No,” (8 years old, mind you) he said “you have to use a credit card to buy food.” Educational for all concerned. True story.