Sherman Says: Canada’s disinterest in the penny should not spread to the United States
According to The Toronto Star, it costs the mint 1.6 cents to make each penny. So, these coins are practically worthless.
A pound of pennies would bring between $2.50 and $3 from a scrap metal dealer. Since it takes up to 181 pennies to make a pound, depending on when the coins were minted, selling them for scrap would be more financially rewarding than spending them, according to the Star.
Nearly every retail establishment on both sides of the border has some sort of cup at the register, for patrons to scoop up enough pennies necessary to make exact change. If that cup should be empty, the clerk will often say, “Don’t worry about it.”
Some larger Canadian retail chains have reprogrammed their computerized cash registers to automatically round customers’ change to the nearest nickel, so someone is going to get the short end of the stick, on virtually any cash transaction. In most instances, it will be the customer.
Debit cards and smartphone transactions also played a part in the penny’s demise, but will never fully replace dollar bills and coins. Currency is headed the way of the postage stamp, with novelty’s being one of the reasons people hang on to their old ways.
The United States Mint rolled out a series of collectable quarters, beginning in 2010. The 56 coins depict national parks and other locations, as part of the America the Beautiful quarters program. Like Rodney Dangerfield, pennies got no respect.
I always make sure I have a couple of pennies in my pocket, when I visit the coffee shop down the street, so that I can give the clerk exact change, for my purchase. By forking over a penny or two, I am actually reducing my inventory of coins, which are otherwise destined for an anonymous paper sleeve, to be converted at the bank. Once the transaction is complete, the pennies are the shop’s problem.
Lost in the discussion about the future of the American penny is the fact that it has borne President Abraham Lincoln’s likeness, since 1909. When the U.S. Mint began, in 1792, one of the first objects it created was the 1-cent coin. The image on that first cent was of a lady with flowing hair, symbolizing liberty. The coin was large and made of pure copper, while today’s smaller cent is made of copper and zinc, according to the mint’s website.
Nicknamed the “wheat penny,” because of the image on the reverse side, the coin remained unchanged, for 49 years.
The image of the Lincoln Memorial was struck, beginning in 1959, to commemorate the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s birth. Then, four years ago, the mint began issuing four different pennies, to mark Lincoln’s life, from Kentucky – Pennsylvania Avenue. The scramble to generate interest in our 1-cent coin was obvious, yet it is unclear as to whether or not the cost of the design project and retooling the minting process was worthwhile.
Queen Elizabeth II’s likeness graces the Canadian penny. Has anyone asked her how she feels about being taken out of circulation? Canadian Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said, last year, that “pennies take up too much space on our dressers at home.”
More heresy came from Desjardins, one of the largest financial cooperative groups in Canada. “Once the penny is successfully gone, the federal government should consider, a few years later, the relevance of removing the 5-cent coin,” officials said, in 2007.
They obviously did not think this through. American pennies will still be struck and, therefore, make their ways into Canadian casinos and amateur hockey rinks. I say we should ramp up the production of our pennies, to flood the market in border communities such as Buffalo. Then, we’ll see who’s boss. Our penny – like Rodney Dangerfield – deserves some respect.
David Sherman is the managing editor of Bee Group Newspapers and a columnist for the Weekly Independent Newspapers of Western New York, with a circulation of 286,500 readers. Opinions expressed here are those of the author. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.