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Down to my last 19 cents

I DIG INTO my wallet this morning and pull out my last 19 pennies. I’ll spend them the next chance I get, and I won’t be sad to see the coin get retired. Or will I?

As a kid I had a penny collection. I think the Canadian mint sold cardboard albums you could use to collect pennies, snapping them into place in little holes, the years clearly printed underneath. I believe I had pennies going back to the 1920s, although I no longer have the collection. The prize ones were untarnished, gleaming copper.

You could definitely buy worthwhile stuff with pennies back then. In fact, Mo-Jo soft candies, my personal favourite, were two for a penny! Double bubble gum was one cent per package, which included a tiny comic strip printed on wax paper. When we returned a pop bottle it was worth two cents. So, a spending spree meant taking a quarter and a dime to the neighbourhood convenience store, buying a pop and bag of chips for 27 cents, then getting the return back on the bottle and having a whole 10 cents to spend on candy as well.

Alas, for the last two or three decades pennies have been an inconvenience, and especially irrelevant with the arrival of loonies and toonies.

Before I spend my last 19 cents today, I examine each coin. Even this random collection has amazing variety. I realize I haven’t looked closely at a penny in many years.

There are two shiny ones from 2011 and 2012 – late arrivals that don’t realize their careers will be prematurely terminated in relative infancy.

The oldest penny dates from 1946 – almost half a generation before I was born. My Dad was fresh out of the army the year before; my Mum had just graduated from U of T in Phys. Ed. and was headed to Montreal to teach at the YWCA. They wouldn’t meet for another half dozen years.

But the 1946 penny – almost black with age and its images worn smooth by 67 years of circulation – isn’t even Canadian: it shows Abe Lincoln’s face on the head! We’ve used U.S. pennies interchangeably since I was a kid, a practice that must violate some currency law, yet is just too much trouble for any bureaucracy to worry about. In fact, two pennies in my last pool are American; the other one, from 1963, comes closest to the year I was born (1958).

My oldest Canadian penny today is dated 1976. That’s the year I graduated from high school, climbed on my bike, and pedaled east. The Montreal Olympics happened that summer. The CN Tower had just opened in Toronto. René Lévesque and the PQ were elected to government in the fall. And, if we can believe Wikipedia, the Timbit had just been invented, even if there wasn’t yet a Tim Horton’s coffee shop at every major intersection.

I put the pennies back in my wallet, confident that with my next small purchase I’ll be free of them forever.

Then I change my mind, remove the ’46 and the ’76 coins and drop them into the bottom of my desk drawer, as a reminder of my childhood, like the $1 and $2 bills I have stashed away somewhere at home. They take me back to a time when small things meant a lot, when technology didn’t go obsolete every 18 months, and stuff was built to last, not throw away. I’m not sure why the humble, odd-colored coin symbolizes all that – is it more than just nostalgia speaking?

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3 Comments Post a comment
  1. beth ellis #

    Hey Art, I’m glad you’ve marked this event with a blog! It does have significance. I thought the 3 for a penny jawbreakers were the best deal back then… they lasted the longest and there were three of them…..

    February 5, 2013
  2. Monica Forget #

    Double bubble for me… unless I had five pennies, then a wonderful black licorice cigar!

    By the way, on Monday I gathered all the pennies in the “change drawer”, the few in my wallet and the handful in the car and took them to the bank. I donated them to “Power of Play”, a local group raising money to build an accessible park. The bag was heavy. I didn’t count how many there were but it felt good to give them away.
    The next day I purchased a sandwich for lunch and was given three pennies with my change….. hmmmm. A new pile started in the change drawer!

    February 7, 2013
  3. I’m glad you’re keeping those. Really we should have all bought cases of pennies as they’re already worth 5+ cents each, especially the older copper ones.

    November 4, 2013

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