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Pennies may soon be a thing of the past

Old 07-02-06, 01:11 PM
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Pennies may soon be a thing of the past

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By JEFF DONN, Associated Press Writer
1 hour, 47 minutes ago

PLYMOUTH, Mass. - In this village settled by thrifty Pilgrims, you can still buy penny candy for a penny, but tourist Alan Ferguson doubts he'll be able to dig any 1-cent pieces out of his pockets.

He rarely carries pennies because "they take up a lot of room for how much value they have." Instead, like so many other Americans, he dumps his pennies into a bucket back home in Sarasota, Fla.

Pity the poor penny!

It packs so little value that merry kids chuck pennies into the fountain near the candy store, just to watch them splash and sink. Stray pennies turn up everywhere: in streets, cars, sofas, beaches, even landfills with the rest of the garbage.

A penny bought a loaf of bread in early America, but it's a loafer of a coin in an age of inflation and affluence, slowly sliding into monetary obsolescence.

For the first time, the U.S. Mint has said pennies are costing more than 1 cent to make this year, thanks to higher metal prices. "The penny is going to disappear soon unless something changes in the economics of commodities," says Robert Hoge, an expert on North American coins at The American Numismatic Society.

That very idea of spending 1.2 cents to put 1 cent into play strikes many people as "faintly ridiculous," says Jeff Gore, of Elkton, Md., founder of a little group called Citizens for Retiring the Penny.

And yet, while its profile of Abe Lincoln marks time in the bottom of drawers and ashtrays, the penny somehow carries a reassuring symbolism that Americans hesitate to forsake.

"It's part of their past, so they want to keep it in their future," says Dave Harper, editor of Numismatic News.

Gallup polling has shown that two-thirds of Americans want to keep the penny coin. There's even a pro-penny lobby called Americans for Common Cents.

The Mint's announcement is a milestone, though, because coins have historically cost less to produce than the face value paid by receiving banks. They are moneymakers for the government.

U.S. Rep. Jim Kolbe (news, bio, voting record), of Arizona, wants to keep it that way. But when he asked Congress to phase out the penny five years ago he failed; he intends to try again this year. If he fails again, he joked recently, he may open a business melting down pennies to resell the metal.

The idea of a penniless society began to gain currency in 1989 with a bill in Congress to round off purchases to the nearest nickel. It was dropped, but the General Accounting Office in a 1996 report unceremoniously acknowledged that some people consider the penny a "nuisance coin."

In 2002, Gallup polling found that 58 percent of Americans stash pennies in piggy banks, jars, drawers and the like, instead of spending them like other coins. Some people eventually redeem them at banks or coin-counting machines, but 2 percent admit to just plain throwing pennies out!

"Today it's a joke. It's outlived its usefulness," says Tony Terranova, a New York City coin dealer who paid $437,000 for a 1792 penny prototype in what is believed to be the denomination's highest auction price.

"Most people find them annoying when they get them in change," he adds. "I've seen people get pennies in change and actually throw them on the floor."

Not Edmond Knowles, of Flomaton, Ala.

No, he hoarded pennies for nearly four decades as a hobby. He ended up with more than 1.3 million of them — 4.5 tons — in several drums in his garage. His bank refused to take them all at once, but he finally found a coin-counting company, Coinstar, that wanted the publicity.

In the biggest known penny cash-in ever, they sent an armored truck last year, loaded his pennies, and then watched helplessly as it sank into the mud in his yard. They needed a tow truck to redeem it. "I still got a few ruts in the yard," says Knowles.

His years of collecting brought him about $1 a day — $13,084.59 in all.

A penny saved was a penny earned for Knowles, but he took another lesson from the experience, too: "I don't save pennies anymore. It's too big a problem getting rid of them."

Another problem: deciding what to make the penny from. Copper, bronze and zinc have been used, even steel in 1943 when copper was desperately needed for the World War II effort. In 1982, zinc replaced most of the penny's copper to save money, but rising zinc prices are now bedeviling the penny again.

"I'm very surprised they haven't gone to plastic," muses Bill Johnson, a wheat-penny collector who owns the Plimoth Candy Co. (It uses an old spelling of Plymouth.)

Even in his shop where a penny still buys a Tootsie Roll, he leaves a few pennies scattered on top of the cash register for customers like Lindsay Taylor, of Westwood, who is buying $1.78 worth of candy.

She is carrying no pennies because her sons have taken them for their old-fashioned piggy banks, which automatically flip coins inside. Her 2-year-old, she says, "just loves pushing the button."

Others have their own reasons for valuing the humble coin, which borrowed its colloquial name from British currency. The "cent" — meaning 1 percent of a dollar — has been struck every year except 1815, when the United States ran out of British-made penny blanks in the wake of the War of 1812.

"It's part of the fabric of American culture," says David Early, a spokesman for the government's Lincoln Bicentennial Commission.

The penny took on the profile of President Lincoln, beloved as the Union's savior during the Civil War, on the centennial of his birth in 1909. The first ones carried ears of wheat on the tails side, but the Lincoln memorial has replaced those. Four new tails designs with themes from Lincoln's life are planned for 2009, with a fifth permanent one afterward to summarize his legacy.

This redesign, the first major one since 1959, has heartened penny lovers.

Those who want to keep the penny coin include small merchants who prefer cash transactions, contractors who help supply pennies, and consumer advocates who fear rounding up of purchases.

"We think the penny is important as a hedge to inflation," says director Mark Weller of Americans for Common Cents. "Any time you have more accurate pricing, consumers benefit."

Joining with the lobby, the wireless network Virgin Mobile USA recently launched a save-the-penny campaign. Its penny truck will travel cross-country to gather pennies for charity.

Scores of charities esteem the penny, which many Americans donate without a second thought. Like shouts in a playground, pennies can multiply quickly.

"People don't like carrying them around, so we dump them into the nearest bowl," says Teddy Gross, who founded the Penny Harvest charity drive in New York City schools. "By the end of any given year, most Americans have got a stash of capital which is practically useless, but it's within easy reach of a young person."

Last year, his children raked in 55 million pennies, which had to be redeemed with help from the Brink's security company. They also bagged about 200,000 spare nickels.

By the way, the Mint says nickels are also costing more to produce than they're worth. Pity the poor nickel?
Don't want to taint my own poll, but I have a hunch how it's going to turn out.
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Old 07-02-06, 01:29 PM
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I'm all for keeping the penny, but reading that it costs over a penny to make one... that's ridiculous.
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Old 07-02-06, 02:00 PM
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I think it should be eliminated, but trying to do so will open up an incredible can of worms.

First, there's going to be the argument over how to round. Even though logic, accounting principles, and simple math dictate the obvious "round down for 1 and 2, up for 3 and 4", every business and consumer advocacy group who wants to argue on cable news shows will come up with wild theories and statistics about how certain schemes hurt their constituency, or are a windfall for big business, or whatever. Business groups will cry that lowering a price from .99 to .95 will cost "billions". Consumer groups will scream bloody murder when $9.99 prices are changed to $10.00. Fox News will breathessly worry about how this will affect the stock market.

Sales taxes will be a problem. Even if all prices are set to 5 or 0 at the end, sales taxes will sour the total. Can taxes be rounded up or down? Who gets the surplus? Who makes up the inevitable shortfall?

Then the credit card people will chime in. Why should they have to round at all? No actual money is changing hands, why should we screw up our system, which works fine for an exact amount regardless of coinage in circulation. Are stores going to offer to-the-penny pricing for credit card purchases and rounded prices for cash sales? What about checks?

And then there will be the "save the penny!" crowd. Semi-literate troglodytes who can't fathom the idea of change. Beloved phrases like "A penny saved is a penny earned" will become meaningless. The Beatles will have to change the name of that song to Nickle Lane. If Uncle Zeke ever returns from the dead, by God, he won't be able to make change!

I say keep it, even if it costs money. People aren't smart enough to function without it.
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Old 07-02-06, 02:20 PM
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What about ass pennies? I am going to have to switch to ass nickles. Ouch!
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Old 07-02-06, 02:27 PM
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screw pennies I'm more worried about the fraction of cents
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Old 07-02-06, 02:38 PM
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it's a conspiracy to get Lincoln off of coins. Outrage I say outrage. How dare they disrespect us Illinoisians like this!




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Old 07-02-06, 02:39 PM
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Originally Posted by strife
it's a conspiracy to get Lincoln off of coins. Outrage I say outrage. How dare they disrespect us Illinoisians like this!




but Abe is from Kentucky
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Old 07-02-06, 03:37 PM
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Wipe them out. ALL of them.
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Old 07-02-06, 03:51 PM
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Originally Posted by Jason
I think it should be eliminated, but trying to do so will open up an incredible can of worms.

First, there's going to be the argument over how to round. Even though logic, accounting principles, and simple math dictate the obvious "round down for 1 and 2, up for 3 and 4", every business and consumer advocacy group who wants to argue on cable news shows will come up with wild theories and statistics about how certain schemes hurt their constituency, or are a windfall for big business, or whatever. Business groups will cry that lowering a price from .99 to .95 will cost "billions". Consumer groups will scream bloody murder when $9.99 prices are changed to $10.00. Fox News will breathessly worry about how this will affect the stock market.

Sales taxes will be a problem. Even if all prices are set to 5 or 0 at the end, sales taxes will sour the total. Can taxes be rounded up or down? Who gets the surplus? Who makes up the inevitable shortfall?

Then the credit card people will chime in. Why should they have to round at all? No actual money is changing hands, why should we screw up our system, which works fine for an exact amount regardless of coinage in circulation. Are stores going to offer to-the-penny pricing for credit card purchases and rounded prices for cash sales? What about checks?

And then there will be the "save the penny!" crowd. Semi-literate troglodytes who can't fathom the idea of change. Beloved phrases like "A penny saved is a penny earned" will become meaningless. The Beatles will have to change the name of that song to Nickle Lane. If Uncle Zeke ever returns from the dead, by God, he won't be able to make change!

I say keep it, even if it costs money. People aren't smart enough to function without it.

I award you "intelligent answer of the week". That and ten pennies still won't buy a cup of coffee any more.
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Old 07-02-06, 04:09 PM
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It's weird when you go to Japan and the smallest denomination of currency is 1 Yen. Not a fraction of a Yen, but rather 1 Yen.
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Old 07-02-06, 04:18 PM
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If I had a penny for every time someone has proposed this...
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Old 07-02-06, 04:39 PM
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I need a grundlepoll™ option before I vote in a poll...
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Old 07-02-06, 04:40 PM
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Rounding sucks.

If it costs more than a penny to make, make it out of something cheaper than a penny. As the article mentions, it's been done before. Aluminum would work, it's cheap, easy for the gov't to recycle old coins to make new or if aluminum prices go up we can just take them in to the local recycling centers ourselves. And they'd be light too so people won't bitch about having them in their pocket.
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Old 07-02-06, 04:43 PM
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But what about the nickel? It costs more than 5 cents to make one of those, too (read that in a newspaper, so I don't have an immediate link for proof).
*Edited because Jason already said it all better than me.

Last edited by Tom Banjo; 07-02-06 at 04:46 PM.
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Old 07-02-06, 07:38 PM
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I have no problem with rounding. Gas costs $2.859 per gallon, the sales tax is 5.875%, and we get by.

My great grandmother, who wasn't very educated, knew the answer of 13 times anything. They owned a bakery, bread cost 13 cents a loaf, so she instantly knew the answer to 7x13. Nowdays bread costs $2 a loaf. The penny is of so little value as to be useless.

What would happen if someone put a bowl next to the cash register labelled "Take a quarter, leave a quarter"? The quarters would be gone by lunchtime. They are worth something!
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Old 07-02-06, 08:51 PM
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So I guess this isn't time to post my petition online to bring back the half penny?
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Old 07-02-06, 11:54 PM
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Get rid of it. While they're at it, they can get rid of the nickel and dime too!
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Old 07-02-06, 11:59 PM
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I can let the penny go if we get back the 2 cent piece.

http://www.scvhistory.com/scvhistory...1205-coins.htm

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Old 07-03-06, 01:22 AM
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I thought you said "penises may soon be a thing of the past". I would have welcome that thought, as it would save me time from not having to urinate and also allow me to sit more comfortably.
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Old 07-03-06, 02:19 AM
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Jason's post rocked.

I don't really feel the burden of carrying them, as I use a credit card for everything. If it costs more to make them, change something to make it cheaper. What, you ask? I don't know. In the meantime, I'll be part of the 58% who tosses them into a jar.
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Old 07-03-06, 02:57 AM
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Originally Posted by ChiTownAbs, Inc
It's weird when you go to Japan and the smallest denomination of currency is 1 Yen. Not a fraction of a Yen, but rather 1 Yen.
Fractions are for the English.

My trip to japan is what started my real annoyance with pennies. 1 yen is worth less than a penny right now, and the coins just seemed so incredibly pointless to me. When I got back, I started to think of pennies in the same light.

Get rid of em, I say.
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Old 07-03-06, 08:13 AM
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It makes far too much sense to scrap the penny so it will never happen.
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Old 07-03-06, 08:43 AM
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Originally Posted by Jason
Sales taxes will be a problem. Even if all prices are set to 5 or 0 at the end, sales taxes will sour the total. Can taxes be rounded up or down? Who gets the surplus? Who makes up the inevitable shortfall?
Um, you DO realize that this rounding off already occurs with pennies, right? Or did you think that sales tax percentages and other fiscal computations somehow produce results that never yield fractional cents?

It's just a matter of scale. The institutions are already dealing with it "with" pennies. But because a penny is worth so little now, getting rid of them would simply result in the same degree of rounding that we had, say, 20-30 years ago when the CPI etc. was about 1/5 of what it is now.

So your logistical arguments don't hold water. People might get "upset" about losing pennies, but if the government mandates it (and it does make sense to get rid of pennies) then people will deal.
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Old 07-03-06, 08:50 AM
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They used to have a coin called a millicent, nicknamed a "mill." They got rid of them. So it could be done.

Personally, the only thing I find pennies useful for is giving them to cashiers so I get a nickel or a dime back on purchases that add up to 2, 3, or 4 cents above a multiple of 5. And half the time, the idiots don't know what I'm trying to do anyway since nobody under 60 knows how to count change manually anymore.
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Old 07-03-06, 08:58 AM
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What sucks is when you're digging for change for a parking meter or a vending machine, and you find pennies where you need nickels, dimes, or quarters. You can't even use them and they get discarded. That's why they should get rid of them. You can get away w/ paying for stuff under $1 w/ just nickels, dimes, and quarters. Try giving somebody 50 pennies for something and watch their expression.
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