Thursday, August 17, 2006


Okay, I’ve got absolutely nothing against Abraham Lincoln. I never knew him. But we did study him in school. He seemed like a pretty cool guy. He did some pretty cool things, like ending slavery. Heck, he MUST have been pretty special; they put his likeness on the penny. The one cent coin endured times of tragedy and times of triumph, the great depression, the space age, two world wars, Korea, Vietnam, Kuwait and Iraq/Afghanistan. But time marches on, and inflation and consequent rises in the cost of living have taken their toll on the poor penny. Efforts are underway to stop minting the little copper disk, some say, because it costs more to produce them than they’re worth. Others say it’s a nuisance, and just clutters up pockets, car ashtrays and piggy banks. Like Yogi Berra was quoted as saying, “The nickel isn’t worth a dime anymore,” the penny apparently isn’t worth a plug nickel, in the grander scheme of things.

I’m sort of ambivalent about the whole idea. Since I was a kid, I’ve been fascinated by coins, particularly old coins. Some of my most prized possessions are Indian head and wheat pennies. Okay, so the Indian heads don’t include Lincoln’s face on them, but those that do still hold a certain mystique that goes beyond the noisy rattle they make in pants pockets. I must admit that having to break a dollar for an item costing $1.01 is an unsavory experience. But I can’t resist the automatic habit I’ve nurtured throughout my life to check to see if the pennies I get in change might include an oldie.

So, if we do away with the penny, how does that affect our monetary mainframe? Well, the next step up is the nickel. Without pennies, things would be priced in increments of five cents. It only follows that taxation would also default to the nickel, thereby causing revenuers to either drop or raise taxes accordingly. And if you think any city, county, state or the Fed is going to rush to reduce sales, income or capital gains taxes to the next lower level, think again. In fact, think five more times, actually. No, that ain’t gonna happen. So get ready to pay more taxes if the penny bites the dust.

I wonder if the legacy of the last red cent might represent the next domino to fall. Some countries around the world have suffered such inflationary infections that they’ve done away with coins altogether, leaving pockets devoid of metal and at the same time stuffing wallets to the brim with a plethora of paper. Physics works here, too. What you give up in metal, you gain (usually and then some) in paper. This could also have a psychological element. Folding money has a much more pleasant connotation than the mere flip of a coin. Which sounds like more, a dollar bill or a hundred pennies?

Modern vending machines now take bills. Beyond that, some of them even take credit cards. And I don’t know of a coin slot anywhere that will take a penny without instantaneously coughing up the copper. Penny candy has gone the way of the idea of “dialing” a telephone number. Who’ll suffer most? Oh, probably coin collectors who will breathe a sigh of nostalgia when there’s no copper coins to covet, collect and commercialize.

Seems like the bookends are closing in on us. I can’t remember when, but we’ve already seen the demise of the half dollar coin. That was one of my favorites as a kid. I’d sometimes get one as a birthday gift, and just holding one in your hand made you feel like you were rich. Back then I WAS rich when I had one. Is the penny an endangered species? Will the one cent coin be next, closing us in from the bottom of the heap? And will the erstwhile nickel, dime and quarter remain to rule the numismatic realm? Penny…er, make that a nickel for your thoughts!?


Bloggin' Out Loud said...

I say, keep the penny. I agree with you in the price of everything going up with the extinction of the penny. Anyway, speaking on a strictly feminine's cute!

Lucy said...

I screwed up..that last comment was mine...sorry!

Kari said...

LMAO SOrry Lucy, David andI used to do that ALL the time until we switched to Wrodpress. He gets so mad at me for not logging out of places he goes to as well!