The other day, in the Walmart parking lot, as I was getting out of my car, I spotted at least a dozen pennies on the asphalt.
I didn’t pick them up. Just a few years ago, I would’ve picked up every one of them. There were two reasons I didn’t pick them up the other day – my creaky lower back and the fact pennies are next-door to worthless.
I bet I’ve picked up several hundred-dollars-worth of tossed pennies in my lifetime, especially when I was a sweet-toothed kid. Hardly a day went by I didn’t find a penny or two lying on the sidewalk, boulevard or in the curb gutter on my way to and from Hackert’s grocery store. My friends and I made countless trips to that store – even during blizzards – for sweet treats. Those were the days when a penny meant something. To us sugar-fiends, one penny meant two pieces of candy: licorice, jaw breakers, gumballs and more – all of those delicious candies that explains my current set of dentures.
Throughout my life, whenever I’d pick up a penny, I’d hear every time in my auditory memory Grandma Dalman’s voice: “Denny, remember, a penny saved is a penny earned.”
Sorry, Grandma, not so much anymore.
I heard on Minnesota Public Radio the other day it costs more to make a penny than it’s worth – something like two times more. Same with nickels.
The “copper penny” is a misnomer nowadays because a penny is comprised of 97.5 percent zinc and only 2.5 percent copper. In the United States, pennies were first minted in 1793. U.S. mints produce about 7.4 billion pennies each year.
During my penny research, I learned some interesting things: that swallowed pennies can be fatal to parrots and dogs, causing something called hemolytic anemia when the zinc interacts with stomach secretions. For that reason, they can also be dangerous for children. The most commonly swallowed object in children, besides food, is a penny. Luckily, they almost always pass through the system before they can cause any damage.
Dangers to kids and pets might be one reason to quit making the zinc penny. There are many other reasons. But I have my own two good reasons, admittedly selfish ones. I am sick-and-tired of standing in check-out lines as the customer ahead of me digs deep for a penny. I’ll never forget the time a woman told a grocery-store clerk she could keep the penny. What followed was a silly verbal exchange right out of a zany Marx Brothers movie.
“No, it’s your penny. You take it.”
“No, I don’t want it; it’s only a penny.”
“You know what they say, ‘A penny saved is a penny earned.’ “
“No, no, no. I don’t mind parting with a penny, for heaven’s sakes.”
“Oh, come on, you can just pop it in your piggy bank.”
“No, I don’t save pennies.”
I was ready to scream at them: “Shut up already! Give it here. I’ll take your lousy penny!”
Another reason I want the penny abolished is because of that nonsensical habit merchants have of selling things just a penny short of a nice-even-numbered-price. $19.99 and so forth. I imagine it’s an ad “trick” to get us to think, “Gee, it doesn’t cost that much. It’s under 20 bucks.” Well, I don’t know about you, but I don’t think that way. “19.99, to me, means 20 bucks – minus the wretched penny.
Australia and New Zealand both stopped making pennies. The economies of those nations did not falter, as some penny-fanatics claim can happen in a penny-less nation.
There is hope, folks. Even this do-nothing Congress, I’m told, is considering dumping that useless coin.
There is, however, a big roadblock to abolishing the penny. It’s the zinc lobby. Go figure.
Author: Dennis Dalman
Dalman was born and raised in South St. Cloud, graduated from St. Cloud Tech High School, then graduated from St. Cloud State University with a degree in English (emphasis on American and British literature) and mass communications (emphasis on print journalism). He studied in London, England for a year (1980-81) where he concentrated on British literature, political science, the history of Great Britain and wrote a book-length study of the British writer V.S. Naipaul. Dalman has been a reporter and weekly columnist for more than 30 years and worked for 16 of those years for the Alexandria Echo Press.