Penny dreadful?

Just read a fun, informative piece in the March 31 New Yorker, “Penny Dreadful,” about small denomination coins and why they persist. It costs 1.5 cents to mint a penny, 10 cents to mint a nickel, “a condition known in the coin world as ‘negative seigniorage,'” David Owen writes.

Efforts in Congress to stop producing pennies have been blocked — in 1990, 2001 and 2006 — by the powerful zinc lobby (seriously), which commissioned research on how much “rounding up” by merchants might cost consumers. In 1990, an average of $2 per American. Gasp!

Owen is skeptical of the impact. He notes that Americans are so anxious to be rid of pennies and other change that they’re willing to pay Coinstar’s fee of 8.9 percent of any amount fed into its supermarket redemption machines. He proposes dumping the nickel and dime while we’re at it.

One fun statistic from his article: “Breaking stride to pick up a penny, if it takes more than 6.15 seconds, pays less than the federal minimum wage.”

I still pick up pennies. My big thrill, though, came three years or so ago at Pomona College, when lying there on the sidewalk was a $20 bill, with no one around. Needless to say, that was worth stooping over for.

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  • Charles Bentley

    I cannot understand the continuing desire to throw away money. I have one friend who loves the idea of “rounding up” just because it will clear his pockets of “all that useless change!” Another friend regularly takes his pennies and tosses them across parking lots (sometimes by the handful!) because he can’t be bothered with such a pittance.

    Sorry, that goes against the way I was raised. Money isn’t to be worshiped, but it certainly must be respected. Take it for granted today and it’s a sure bet that tomorrow you’ll need everything you can lay your hands on.

    I remember in high school that one of the P.E. teachers would start each year with a empty jar (say a large pickle jar) and put all the change he found around campus into it. Before graduation rolled around, he had already filled the jar — sometimes twice!

    Why is it that when I walk out of the 99 cent store I am always finding pennies on the ground?

    Some say that by looking for (and picking up) change on the ground you fail to see the beauty around you. Well, I have picked up plenty of “free money” over the years, including a $20 bill, and I don’t believe it’s stopped me once from admiring a single blue sky or mountain’s majesty. It has, however, helped me make “cents” of my finances and kept my coin jar in constant use.

    I say to anyone who doesn’t want their pennies, nickels, dimes, quarters, half-dollars or those oh-so-confusing dollar coins: I’ll gladly take ’em off your hands. I’ve still got plenty of room in my pockets!

    [I’m with Charles: There’s a certain glee in finding free money, even if it’s just a penny or a nickel. — DA]

  • Teri Siaz

    But just think, David, If you had a penny for every time you had a penny …

  • John Fuelling

    David, we would like to invite you to have dinner at the Corner Butcher Shop. If you want to pick on Marty, then come in on Thursday evenings…..

    [For a city manager, seeing a journalist walking in your direction is the surest way to lose your appetite. So I may be unable to resist. — DA]

  • Bob House

    David, like you and Charles Bentley, I’m a persistent penny picker-upper who also once found a $20 bill. Seems to me there is a pay-off to this “hobby.”

    My favorite time to find a penny is on the way into a convenience store to buy my lottery ticket. The luck hasn’t worked yet, but I know it’s accumulating. Do you remember the old saying, “See a penny, pick it up. All the day you’ll have good luck.”?

    See this web page for an obsessively detailed analysis of the whether it’s worth it to pick up a penny:

  • Brian

    Dave, shame on you! At our age, you should know, ‘bend at the knees’, never stoop over, you’ll throw your back out!!!

    [I was too excited at the sight of free money to remember! — DA]

  • $20? I wonder how fast that guy in L.A. bent down when he found the $140,000. I don’t know about you…but I would’ve picked that fumble up and ran for the endzone.

    [He returned the whole bag, which fell from a bank transport truck for anyone who hasn’t heard the story, so he’s got more willpower than most of us would. He got $2,000 as a reward. — DA]

  • “Hal Linker”

    Yeah, I hate to admit it, but I am what some would call a scrounge too. I was raised to be frugal and while I certainly am not miserly, I do pick up that coin from the ground.

    “Hadla” is an extremely lucky person to the point of being kind of spooky. Neither of us is even remotely interested in gambling and when we go to Vegas it’s always with a show or concert in mind. Nevertheless, “Hadla” will invariably walk up to a slot machine on the way out of the hotel and drop in $3 and win thousands.

    She actually won two $6,000 jackpots in her only two tries at two different machines at the Aladdin shortly before they blew it up. They made her take her picture with the Genie and all this kind of nonsense. But the money more than paid for our modest weekend trip.

    Once, we went to eat at a place in Corona called the Chuck Wagon which also has a bar. It’s was not a place we’d ever been to before. We just thought we’d try it.
    The lunch was alright. On the way out, “Hadla” found two white unmarked envelopes which contained $18,000 in $100 bills, lying in the parking lot. We assumed it was probably a drug payment that someone dropped. So we kept it.

    This kind of stuff happens to her consistently.

    She’ll take her mother to play Bingo once a year and win the big $2,000 jackpot.

    I’ve said it since I met her 30 years ago, she’s a witch. The good kind of witch though.

    The kind with whom to draw down the moon.