Saturday, April 05, 2008


A list of facts gleaned from David Owen's March 31, 2008 New Yorker article "Penny Dreadful":
  • Pre-1982 pennies are worth 2.5 cents: they are 95% copper.
  • Post-1982 pennies are 97.5% zinc. They cost 1.7 cents to make.
  • Nickels are 75% copper and cost almost ten cents to make.
  • The U.S. Mint makes 7 billion pennies per year. At 1.7 cents per penny, we have "an annual penny deficit of about fifty million dollars—a condition known in the coin world as negative seigniorage.”
  • "Breaking stride to pick up a penny, if it takes more than 6.15 seconds, pays less than the federal minimum wage."
  • "The 'dollars' mentioned in Article I of the Constitution were actually [Spanish] eight-real coins, also known as pieces of eight." The importation of British currency to the Colonies was against the law.
  • The first Lincoln penny, made in 1909, was the first American coin with an actual person on it. Its predecessors, like the Indian-head cent before it, didn't depict real people.
  • The Lincoln penny was made of bronze.
  • To save precious copper during WWII, the Mint considered making pennies out of Bakeklite, a resin plastic invented in the U.S. by Leo Baekeland in 1909.
  • Instead of Bakelite, the Mint made pennies from galvanized steel in 1943. They rusted.
  • In 1944, pennies were made from the copper from spent ammunition shell casings.
  • In 1974, the Mint made 1.5 million pennies out of aluminum. Most were destroyed, and it is now illegal to own one.
  • In 1965, "The price of silver had risen so high that some bank employees were asking to be paid in change, and Congress passed a law that required the Mint to stop using silver in almost all coins."
  • A dollar coin costs 20 cents to make.
  • "The 2006 nickel, which features a likeness of Jefferson and was sculpted by Donna Weaver, is the first circulating U.S. coin to have a forward-facing portrait; it is considered by coin aficionados to be an engraving tour de force."
  • American coins typically last 30 years.
  • "Accurately comparing monetary values (and bread loaves) across decades is impossible, but by almost any economic measure a 1940 penny had more purchasing power than a modern quarter does; in 1940, then, consumers got by, quite contentedly, without the equivalent of our penny, nickel, or dime. "


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