A Penny for Your Thoughts

Turns out we’re about a month away from Lucky Penny Day on May 23rd.  Pennies are very prolific and my youngest loves to pick them up wherever he finds them.

The penny was modeled after the British coin of the same name and was first struck in 1787, known as the Fugio cent and was solid copper. It is interesting to note that no pennies were struck in the year 1815 due to a copper shortage caused by the War of 1812.  That same year, the Coinage Act of 1864 made the penny official US legal tender. 

In 1909, in honor of his 100th birthday, Abraham Lincoln became the first historical figure to grace a coin.  In 2009, 4 new designs representing President Lincoln’s life were circulated and the current penny design, struck in 2010, has a shield design “Preservation of the Union” symbolizing Lincoln’s effort to preserve the United States as a single, unified country.

While the penny itself is not worth much, there are some rare pennies that are quite valuable you should keep an eye out for, primarily the 1943 penny. 

During World War II, copper was in demand and pennies were struck in steel, coated in zinc.  The steel pennies will have a silvery appearance, especially when the zinc plating begins to wear down.  However, an error occurred when some batches were struck in solid copper, primarily at the Philadelphia mint but also in San Francisco.  An easy test to distinguish a 1943 as a copper penny is that it will not stick to a magnet. While many fakes abound, if you feel you have the real thing, by all means have it appraised by a professional. Those genuine 1943 coppers have sold at auction for up to $200,000!  For more penny history and trivia visit Americans for Common Cents.

So, what to do with pennies?

If you’re a homeschooler looking for lesson ideas, try these penny activities from Mensa including the dancing penny, the balancing water trick and the stacking tower.

And for crafters, there are many penny project ideas you can google, from simple to elaborate. Since it’s springtime, roof a birdhouse with some penny shingles.  It’s a simple craft to do with the kids using a store bought house or make your own.  Looking through several projects, glue recommendations included 3M Craft Quick Drying Glue and glue made specifically for metals. One crafter recommended using a tile mesh as added reinforcement between the wood roof and the pennies.  And be sure to plot out your pattern before you start gluing.  Overlapping like shingles? Or just laid flat?

A great gift idea for Mother's Day is the souvenir penny bracelet.  Those pennies you’ve run through the crank machines at zoos and amusement parks can be strung together for a bracelet or necklace.  The linked bracelet tutorial can be found at Rings & Things and the dangling bracelet is at What I Do. It’ll make a nice keepsake that can be added on to throughout the years. 

To encourage philanthropy, a penny jar is a very easy way for young children to fundraise.  Help them choose a charity or a cause and as they come across unwanted pennies, they will add up through the year.  On days you’re running errands with kids in tow, put them on a mission to find as many pennies as they can that day.  A great distraction from the usual moaning and groaning that accompanies boring stuff with mom.

Check out some more reading about pennies and how to get more of them.

cover of Curious George Saves His Penniescover of the book A Penny = 1 centcover of Judy Moody and the Bad Luck Charm





Curious George Saves His Pennies by Margret Rey

A Penny = 1¢ by Carey Molter

Judy Moody and the Bad Luck Charm by Megan McDonald

The Lucky Penny (DVD) an Angelina story


cover of Ten Cents a Dancecover of Trashcover of The Teen Money Manual






Young Adult titles

Ten Cents a Dance by Christine Fletcher

Trash by Andy Mulligan

The Teen Money Manual: A Guide to cash, credit, spending, saving, work, wealth and more by Kara McGuire