(Published in The Denver Post on February 11, 2009)
The day is here. Millions of new pennies are being released. Will unsuspecting bank customers and shoppers notice that the Lincoln Memorial has been replaced with a log cabin? Will they realize that this is the first design change the penny has had since 1959, when the memorial replaced wheat stalks?
Will anyone care?
The 171 kids who attend elementary school in the quarter-square- mile town of Hooper will. Pennies, after all, have been a top priority for them this month. They’ve been filling milk jugs and pickle jars in their classrooms with spare pennies from home, raising money to buy new playground equipment for a campus that dates back to the late 1920s.
But they’re not just counting their collection of copper-plated coins; they’re also listening to some of them and then they’re writing what they hear. I’m not talking about the clanging of metal upon metal, mind you – the kids are jotting down stories of where their pennies have journeyed. It is a tremendous exercise in imagination to conjure up the places those pennies may have gone through the years.
And now, the new 2009 pennies are just beginning their journeys into circulation. The students are anxious to get their hands on these rookie pennies, to be the starting point for these cents’ adventures.
It is estimated that there are more than 130 billion pennies in circulation, many of them held captive in collections, or in piggy banks and under sofa cushions. While pennies have a circulation life of about 30 years, it is not unusual to find one that is much older. I recently received a 1938 penny in change from the bank. One of our teachers found a 1914 penny among those brought to his classroom.
Where have they been before now? Where will they go from here?
Actually, some people think they should go away. Those who favor abolishing the penny tout that it costs too much to produce, distribute and use them. Mint officials have said the cost of making pennies fluctuates, but they will continue making them until ordered otherwise. That’s good news to those who want to keep the penny around. Penny proponents don’t want to round their purchases up, or even down, to the nearest nickel.
Besides, without a penny, what would angels drop from heaven? What would be used to buy thoughts? And how could luck be plucked from the ground, especially when it looks at you face-up? Other coins may be worth more monetarily, but certainly not sentimentally.
The Hooper students have written about pennies that have traveled to the moon, landed on stages with rock stars, been dropped on the beaches of Normandy, been swallowed by fish, dogs and toddlers, and journeyed across country in cars and on rails. The kids have speculated about their pennies being held in the hands of their grandparents when they were children. They have considered the wondrous possibility that the same penny Grandpa used as a youngster to buy a gumball in 1950 is now being used toward the purchase of a soccer ball in the 21st century.
As the 2009 cents make their way into circulation, take notice of the log cabin imprint on the back. Be reminded of the humble beginnings of Abraham Lincoln, who was born in such a dwelling on Feb. 12, 1809. The U.S. Mint is releasing new penny designs every three months this year to commemorate Lincoln’s life.
Take note of them all, and then send the pennies on their way. Your grandkids’ grandkids will be waiting to receive them down the road – possibly for a fundraiser to buy hovercrafts to get between classes on the moon.