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Canada stops making pennies; disinterest shouldn’t spread here

The Royal Canadian Mint began taking the Canadian penny out of circulation on Feb. 4, a reflection of both economic distress and lack of interest.

The action shows economic distress because, according to the Toronto Star, it costs the mint 1.6 cents to make each penny. So the coins are practically worthless.

A pound of pennies would bring between $2.50 and $3 from a scrap metal dealer. Since it takes up to 181 pennies to make a pound, depending on when the coins were minted, selling them for scrap would be more financially rewarding, according to the Star.

It shows a lack of interest because almost every retail establishment on both sides of the border has some sort of cup at the register for patrons to scoop up the pennies necessary to make exact change. And if that cup should be empty, the clerk will often say, “Don’t worry about it.”

Some larger Canadian retail chains have reprogrammed their computerized cash registers to automatically round the customer’s change to the nearest nickel, so someone is going to get the short end of the stick on virtually any cash transaction. In most instances, it will be the customers.

Debit cards and smartphone transactions also play a part in the penny’s demise but will never fully replace dollar bills and coins. Yet currency is headed the way of the postage stamp, with novelty one of the reasons people hang on to their old ways.

The U.S. Mint rolled out a series of collectable quarters beginning in 2010.

The 56 coins feature designs depicting national parks and other locations as part of the America the Beautiful quarters program. Like Rodney Dangerfield, pennies get no respect.

I make sure I have a couple of pennies in my pocket when I plan to visit the coffee shop down the street so that I can give the clerk exact change for my purchase. By forking over a penny or two, I am actually reducing my inventory of coins otherwise destined for an anonymous paper sleeve to be converted at the bank. Once the transaction is complete, the pennies are their problem.

Lost in the discussion about the future of the American penny is the fact that it has borne the likeness of President Abraham Lincoln since 1909.

When the U.S. Mint was created in 1792, one of the first objects it made the following year was the 1-cent coin. The image on the first cent was of a lady with flowing hair, symbolizing liberty. The coin was larger and made of pure copper, while today’s smaller cent is made of copper and zinc, according to the mint’s website.

Nicknamed the “wheat penny” because of the image on the reverse side, it remained unchanged for 49 years. The image of the Lincoln Memorial was struck beginning in 1959 to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the president’s birth. Then four years ago, the mint began issuing four different pennies to mark Lincoln’s life from Kentucky to Pennsylvania Avenue. The scramble to generate interest in our 1-cent coin was obvious, yet it is unclear if the cost of the design project and retooling the minting process was worth it.

The likeness of Queen Elizabeth II graces the Canadian penny. Has anyone asked her how she feels about being taken out of circulation? Canadian Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said last year that “pennies take up too much space on our dressers at home.”

More heresy came from Desjardins, one of the largest financial cooperative groups in Canada. “Once the penny is successfully gone, the federal government should consider, a few years later, the relevance of removing the 5-cent coin,” officials stated in 2007.

They obviously did not think this through. American pennies will still be struck and make their way into Canadian casinos and amateur hockey rinks. I say we should ramp up production of our pennies to flood the market in border communities such as Buffalo. Then we’ll see who’s boss. Our penny - like Rodney Dangerfield - deserves some respect.


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