Has the Penny Outlasted Its Usefulness?

They’re everywhere. We find them beneath the cushions on the couch, lurking in the bottom of the junk drawer, and collecting dust at the bottom of old purses. They’ve been lost down sewer drains, stored in jars, and even smashed to smithereens along the road side. We’ve even shamelessly sucked them up with the vacuum cleaner rather than stoop to pick them up. The penny has fallen from the illustrious status of being the first coin minted in the United States, to that of a nuisance.

Is the penny living on borrowed time? I know I don’t use them. When shopping I collect more pennies rather than take the time to count out the correct change. The coins disappear into the dark void called my purse. The pennies jingle around in the bottom along with paperclips, emery boards, and complementary mints until I have trouble lifting the thing. From my purse they end up in a jar on my dresser. When the jars start crowding out the perfume bottles and knickknacks, I break down and haul them back to the bank.

Although I don’t routinely use my pennies, I’m not willing to condone its demise. Legislation has been introduced more than once calling for the halt in the production of the penny. Minting the penny is no longer cost effective. The metal used is worth far more than the penny itself.

Is that sufficient grounds to eliminate it?

For over two centuries the penny has symbolized the spirit of our nation. Few know that it was Benjamin Franklin that suggested the original design, but most know what he said about it. “A penny saved is a penny earned.” His words set a precedent that still holds today. We give our children a piggy bank, a handful of pennies, and the freedom to dream.

The history of the penny is as varied as the dreams they’ve spawned. Since 1787, over 300 billion pennies, in 11 different designs, have been minted. In colonial times, coins from all over Europe were used. The pence was the British equivalent of a penny, but as with so many things borrowed from the old country, we Americanized it and called it our own.

In 1859 the Indian penny was introduced. It was primarily used to pay the Union soldiers during the Civil War. When I first went to work, I thought I was the only one that had to work for pennies. Obviously I was wrong.

The Lincoln cent made its appearance in 1909 commemorating the 100-year anniversary of Lincoln’s birth. Since then, the penny has gone through several changes. The wheat stalks were replaced with the Lincoln Memorial and the copper penny is no longer made of copper, but when I pull a penny out of my pocket, it’s the same sad, serious face looking out at me. Who knows, maybe Lincoln knew that eventually the aspiring five-year-old would be forced to collect nickels instead of pennies. For now, I will keep dumping my pennies in the bottom of my purse, carry an extra penny for luck, and offer a penny for your thoughts.