These days, a penny just doesn’t get a lot of respect. However, each year it has its day on April 1, which is National One Cent Day.
Nobody knows the exact origin of this unofficial holiday, but it’s a good time to think about the value of a penny and how to save one, the National Day Calendar says. Did you know that the U.S. Mint doesn’t call this coin a penny, but a “cent”? The U.S. Treasury refers to it as a “one cent piece.”
Issuing a penny actually costs the government more than the face value of the coin. As of 2012, the U.S. Mint spent 2 cents to make each one, based on costs for production and distribution. The loss of profitability due to producing pennies cost the United States $58 million in 2012.
The current coin is the Lincoln penny, which replaced the Indian Head cent in 1909. The reverse side showed the Lincoln Memorial for the years 1959 through 2008. In 2009, the U.S. Mint commemorated Lincoln’s 200th birthday with four reverse designs. The following year, the Union Shield became the permanent image.
According to the U.S. Department of the Treasury, the introduction of the Lincoln penny marked a significant change in the styling of U.S. coins. It was the first in a series of portrait coins. Although the government had avoided using portraits, public sentiment associated with the 100th anniversary of Lincoln’s birth overcame this tradition.
The composition of pennies has varied over the years. In 1962, the Mint deleted tin and issued coins that were 95 percent copper and 5 percent zinc. Twenty years later, the composition changed to 97.7 percent zinc plus 2.4 percent copper. Today’s penny is identical to the eye as the mostly copper coin issued prior to 1982.
Thinking about National One Cent Day led me to many recollections of the importance of a penny during my childhood in the 1950s. Penny postcards were common. It was part of many school children’s routine to stop on the walk home from school and buy a 3″-size Tootsie Roll for a penny.
It’s not uncommon today to see customers avoid picking up pennies that spew out of cash register chutes as change. They apparently don’t want to be bothered with these coins. When I was a child, nobody ignored a penny. Finding one on the sidewalk was cause for an announcement.
We had plenty of places to spend pennies. One was a type of store that has pretty much gone out of business. We called it a sundry shop, and each one carried plenty of merchandise available for one cent: small pens and pencils, individual pieces of candy, and trinkets that attached to almost every clothing zipper imaginable. It was also the place to buy paint-by-number kits, Evening in Paris as a gift for your mom, and knitting yarn.
Maybe the best thing about the penny is that anything you can buy for one falls under the radar of sales tax.