Elmsdale- A penny saved today is no longer a penny earned, as the penny begins its journey into history. While labeled as a nuisance and worthless to some consumers, others have found finding a penny and picking it up to be a worthwhile pursuit.
Elmsdale resident Jay Underwood is a small penny collector. He has a near-complete set of coins that have been in circulation, there are no pristine pennies in his book, they have all been used to purchase and have been “found”- just the way he likes it. His collection spans from 1920 to 2012 of Canadian small cents. Before 1920, the penny was larger but they cut down on the size to reduce the amount of copper used due to a scarcity after WWI.
There are only two missing from his book, and they are the most expensive to purchase. The first is the 1954 NSS which means “no shoulder strap” because you can’t see the strap on the Queen’s shoulder. It was only produced as a proof-like coin and is now worth $1,900. He says since it is a proof like coin, he as a collector would not want to collect it since it had not been used to buy anything. A “proof like” one is encased in protective covering like one you would buy from the mint or post office. He feels if it hasn’t been used to buy anything, it is not a coin, it is a medallion.
The second missing from his collection is the 1955 NSS. He explained that there are actually four different versions of this year but the one he does not have would sell for $30 to 70 depending on condition. He has not given up hope of finding one, and says he balks at shelling out $70 for a coin with a value of merely 1.6 cents.
Changes to the penny since 1920 have been few, with the largest changes being the monarch on the back. King George V was followed by George VI despite a very short reign by Edward VIII, who abdicated his throne to marry an American actress. Jay says it’s always been rumoured that a 1937 penny with King Edward VII’s head on it existed; however the mint says they did not strike any of those pennies. Jay says people are still looking for the rumoured handful of sample coins struck. The 1937 coin owned by Jay has the previous monarch on it. In the 60 years of Elizabeth’s reign, her image changed three times as she matured.
The maple leaf has been on the penny since 1920, but they were initially accompanied with the words one cent until 1936. In 1937, the two leaf design became the one we are all familiar with. The 1967 Centennial penny is the only one to not have the leaves, instead it features a Rock Dove designed by artist Alec Colville.
Another change to the penny that Underwood felt was a flop was the addition of the 12 sides in 1982 to assist the visually impaired tell the difference between the penny and dime. Despite limited vision, he can still see the difference in colour, but for anyone visually impaired with neuropathy in their fingers as he does-which causes no feeling in the appendages- they still would not be able to differentiate.
Underwood feels the value of collections, especially nearly complete or complete will go up in value because with the speed the mint is collecting the pennies back in, there won’t be that many available. He feels in 20 years time the jar of pennies may be worth something more than the original 1.6 cents, but even if you have a couple of pounds worth and take them in for scrap, they will still be worth their as metal value. However, to a collector they will be worth considerably more since the penny is no longer being made. Jay says people will eventually start collecting, for as people get older they start looking more to their heritage and the past and there will be more interest in it. People will remember when they had pennies and how much fun it was to collect them.
“Since they have become useless, lots of people will turn them in.” says Underwood, “It’s like baseball cards, everybody had them in the 50’s but everybody threw them out and now the 50’s baseball cards are worth a lot of money.”
The 2012 penny will likely increase in value, it was the last one ever made and because they knew they were going to be eliminating it, they did not make a lot of them. So in 20 years it will be one of the harder ones to find. Right now, any penny from the 20’s to late 30’s is automatically-depending on condition-worth $3-5. It‘s important to do your research, and to remember never clean your pennies. The green oxidization is a natural part of the oxidization, preserving will depend on condition in where and how they were kept. Even if they were never used and just sat around, the metal will still lose its shine. It also shows that the coins are not counterfeit because if you are offered a shiny 1920 penny, they have either cleaned it which decreases value or it’s fake.
Some pennies will oxidize more, because of a higher copper content which decreased after the war. There even some that had a slight amount of gold in them that was used to harden the pennies. To judge value, you have to know which years are worth more, the condition determines value, and the it can differ greatly in some cases.
When asked how he felt about the penny disappearing from our currency Underwood says, “I suppose for a purely financial point of view for the government, the millions they are going to save make sense. It will still be recorded on electronic transfer, but it seems to me they should have come up with a simpler or cheaper way to make a penny. If it costs you 1.6 cents, then change the process. They did it with the nickel during the war, they changed the metal that went in so they could produce cheaper nickels and the strategic metals then went to the war effort.”
Underwood called it the “march of progress” and how we are being herded into a currency free society.
“I just think it’s a shame where so much of our culture has been based upon phrases like ‘penny thief’ or ‘penny antics’ or ‘in for a penny in for a pound’ ‘take care of the penny the pounds will take care of themselves’. It takes away from the idea that saving even in small amounts is something worth doing.”
Underwood said while the government may save a few million by not producing the penny, in the grand scheme of things it is a drop in the bucket and will mean very little to consumers, taxes will not go down, and there will always be another expense to take its place. In Underwood words, “Saving a couple of million a year is peanuts in a budget that is regularly billions in debt.”
While it has only been a few days since the penny passed into history, perhaps we should prudently preserve a few precious pennies for the grandchildren who will ask, “What was a penny?”