Making some sense out of 1 cent pieces

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Here's a penny for your thoughts. Do you realize it takes more than a penny to make a penny? With rising prices on all metals, including the small amount of copper that is actually in our 1-cent piece, it costs 1.4 cents to make a 1-

cent coin. Now that, my friends, is government in action and perhaps, government at its worst.

When I was but a mere lad, I collected coins. Nothing major mind you. Just a small hobby that evaporated over time. My favorite coin to collect was the wheat penny primarily because at that tender age, the wheat penny gave way to a new design and I assumed that someday those wheats would be worth big bucks. Well, that day has yet to arrive since most wheat pennies today are worth about 2 cents, give or take a penny.

Legislation has been offered in Congress in the past to do away with the lowly penny in favor of a rounding system. But there are outspoken and zealous penny advocates as well.

In short, don't expect the penny to go the way of the $2 bill anytime soon. But yes, I believe the day will come when the penny will fade from our currency. Given the current price of production, that day may well come sooner than later.

In an interesting twist on marketing, a cell phone company this week launched a drive to save the penny. But its motives are highly suspect. The movement was really designed to draw attention to its new text messaging service which will cost consumers just 1 cent per message. I discount this announcement as advertising fluff and not any legitimate attempt to salvage the copper coin at the bottom of our currency ladder.

But common sense may dictate that someday soon lawmakers will decide that a penny isn't worth a penny if it takes a penny and a half to make a penny. Did anyone follow that? That's like printing dollar bills that cost a buck and a half to print. Doesn't take a math major to figure out the numbers on that one now does it?

As I have written once before, the penny is so loathed that few people will actually stoop over to pick up a penny anymore. I have seen that phenomenon more than once. I'm not sure exactly what denomination of coin will prompt most people to stop and stoop but a penny no longer does the trick.

I would support a movement to send the penny into numismatology history. Some type of rounding system does make sense especially given the cost to produce a penny. I think most consumers would actually welcome the change.

And maybe - just maybe - those remaining wheat pennies I still hoard will eventually be worth those big bucks. But I'll bet you a penny it won't happen in my lifetime. Wanna bet?

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