The Penny: An Underestimated Currency

Pennies are an important piece of American history and are not meant to be stepped over in the street


In today’s market, many underestimate the value of a penny. Perhaps it is because of the “take a penny, leave a penny” mentality that they are not worth anything.  This could not be farther from the truth.

There have been efforts made to eliminate the use of the penny all-together in the United States. What a shame that would be. Pennies minted in the 1940’s, namely 1942 and 1943 “wheat pennies” can be worth up to $40 by a collector.  My collection of 100 wheat pennies are worth at total of $40 (forty) dollars to collectors,  $1 dollar if I spend them in circulation. What makes these coins valuable is the copper content of the coin. Today, the copper content is a fraction of what it once was at 98% zinc with only copper plating. This will change with the collectors edition coin minted with the copper content of pennies minted in 1909, which is 95% copper (1). Although it is illegal to have pennies and nickels melted down for their value, these are still worth collecting. Interestingly enough, there are about ten pennies in circulation that are illegal and subject to confiscation by the secret service. These pennies were a makeup of aluminum and bronze that were a prototype and never mass circulated for different reasons (1).

What are other reasons to pick up a penny on the street, even if it is on tails? Savings.  If you look back on your lifetime and think about how many pennies you have walked by in your life time you could probably come up with enough money for a pizza at least. Perhaps you never pass a penny up, saved pennies can add up to hundreds of dollars a year. I have paid for entire vacations on pennies saved. As a child I recall reading a story about a family who found pennies hidden in the walls of their father’s home when he died. Those pennies added up to nearly $7,000 (seven thousand) dollars.

Pennies are also good for “debt snowballs.” Financial Peace University guru Dave Ramsey teaches a theory for helping pay down your debt. Each month, you save and scrounge all you can to help pay down your debt by selling, trading, picking up pennies, whatever you must do to pay a “snowflake” on your debt. Pennies from your daily change is a good way to add to your monthly snowflake. 

Marketing promotions involving pennies have become the rage as of late. CiCi’s Pizza is laying out one million pennies all over their restaurants and if you find one, you may get a free buffet. There is a commercial where a man raised millions of pennies to help sick children.

Pennies are an important piece of American history and are not meant to be stepped over in the street. Save your pennies or give them to someone who could use them. Collect them and trade them; give them to your children. Just remember, that they still hold value in American Culture and should not be underestimated.