Penny dreadful

There's a great article ("Penny dreadful: they're horrid and useless. Why do pennies persist?") in the 3/31/08 issue of The New Yorker.

Pennies: Billions of coins, most of them pennies, are unaccounted for. Maybe D.B. Cooper has them all...
Pennies: Billions of coins, most of them pennies, are unaccounted for. Maybe D.B. Cooper has them all...Courtesy smackfu

I read it, and immediately thought of the Science Buzz penny poll. So, readers, here are a few more fascinating facts to add to the pile:

  • A penny minted before 1982 is 95% copper. At recent prices, that's $0.025' worth.
  • Newer pennies are 97.5% zinc, but since zinc has soared in value, too, producing a penny costs about $0.017.
  • If it takes any longer than 6.15 seconds, breaking stride to pick up a penny off the ground pays less than the federal minimum wage.
  • The US Mint took more than two years to manufacture its first million coins; the Philadelphia Mint makes that many every 45 minutes or so.
  • A typical Mint bag full of pennies contains only about four thousand dollars' worth, yet you'd need a forklift to move it to the back of your getaway vehicle.
  • "The average life span of American pocket change is thirty years. During the past thirty years, the US Mint has produced something like a half trillion coins, most of them cents, yet the Mint estimates that only about three hundred billion coins are currently in circulation. This estimate is probably high, since it includes coins that haven't budged from their coffee cans in years. Even so, the missing change is worth billions. Where is it? Except in rare cases, old coins, unlike old banknotes, aren't withdrawn from circulation by the Federal Reserve. People simply mislay them, eventually, in one way or another, and in most cases they disappear as permanently as if they had been dropped into the sea. Pocket change leaks from the economy the way air leaks from a balloon, and most of what leaks is pennies."

Lest you think I'm a strong advocate of eliminating pennies, let me add that a nickel now costs almost $0.10 to manufacture. But making a dollar coin costs only about $0.20.

In fact,

"In 2006, the Mint cleared $750 million on revenues of $2.3 billion, so it's in no immediate danger of violating its obligation not to spend more on manufacturing coins than it receives, from the Federal Reserve and other coin consumers, for manufacturing them."

You're wondering, "Who are those other coin consumers?" (I know I was...)

"Last year, the Mint sold some $872 million's worth of non-circulating coins and medals to collectors and to people who like to keep savings in precious metals."

Dying for more odd facts about currency? Read the article. (It goes on to suggest why we might consider giving up not only pennies and nickels, but also dimes and maybe even $1 bills.)

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

JGordon's picture
JGordon says:

Fortunately, my getaway vehicle is a forklift.

posted on Sat, 04/12/2008 - 12:19pm

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