“Penny For Your Thoughts: Don’t Eliminate the U.S. Cent” by Jack Topping

[31 December 2019]

As the year comes to a close, I took a moment to look at the United States Mint’s 2019 production numbers for the one cent coin, commonly referred to as the “penny”. The overall number for circulating pennies surprised me, totaling at “6838.4M”, or in other terms, 6,838,400,000 one cent coins for this year alone. These figures, taken from the U.S. Mint’s Production Sales Figures page on their website tally up 3.352 billion and 3.486 billion pennies from the Denver and Philadelphia mints, respectively.

While I am not in favor of eliminating the penny, I think the number is honestly beyond comprehension. To put this in perspective, one billion seconds amounts to 31.69 years. Take a second and try to picture that in pennies. I’d imagine almost seven billion pennies piled together would fill up entire houses, let alone bank vaults and in the pockets of millions of Americans. Sadly, those bank vaults and pockets of millions are where these pennies sit year round. While I can only speak for myself, I wouldn’t be surprised if others shared my sentiment that the penny (to no fault of its own) seemingly loses value every year, thanks to inflation. No longer does the sight of a penny on the ground elicit a wonderful feeling of surprise. What was a lucky find on the street has turned into something that is unusable by itself. Try going into any major store or supermarket with one penny and see how far you can get. I’m guessing not very far.

Even though the buying power of the one cent coin is considerably low, it still is an opportunity for new collectors to enter the hobby. Collecting Lincoln Memorial and Lincoln Shield cents is a great and relatively inexpensive way to start a collection. As someone who started their collection with Lincoln cents, they hold a special place in my collection, yet at the same time it’s important to recognize where these cents stand in public opinion. Even as a coin collector, I can recognize that nearly seven billion coins per year is a lot, knowing full well that it’s proportional to the millions of citizens living in the United States. 

Instead of producing billions of pennies annually (keeping in mind they are produced at 2.08 cents each as of 2018) the penny should continue to exist in the American economy, but new pennies should not be produced for circulation. Instead, a small amount (relative to 2019’s nearly seven billion figure) could be minted to provide numismatists and enthusiasts alike to continue their collection, while at the same time alleviating unnecessary cost to taxpayers. 

While I don’t expect a resolution to this anytime soon, it’s important to keep this topic in the public eye instead of letting it go to the wayside. 

What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments below.