Pennies (copy)

Pennies bring back memories. 

A penny for your thoughts? In my case, sometimes, that’s not a great rate of exchange.

Recently, I happened to spend more than 45 minutes rummaging through a jar of pennies that resides on my dresser. Once upon a time, I’d toss loose change into the jar. Occasionally, some silver coins might make their way into the mix, but this oversize glass jar primarily just collects pennies.

Though not professing to be a psychic, I would guess I’m not the only person who keeps such an unintentional coin collection. I haven’t crossed over to the totally cashless part of our society. I prefer to carry a little folding money in one pants pocket, and whatever loose change may result from a transaction, in the other. I have a debit card, but use it, for the most part, for larger purchases. However, now that I think about it, I used the card for a sub sandwich just last week. Please don’t think less of me.

In the meantime, let’s get to the point. As I rifled through the pennies, I found myself looking at the date they were printed. As each penny dropped meaninglessly back into the jar, I was soon thinking about what that year had meant in my life.

A penny saved

Most of the pennies seemed to be from the 1980s. Did you know that until 1982, most pennies were made of 95% copper? Since then, each penny minted in the U.S. has been 97% zinc.

For you hoarders out there, that means all your pennies older than 1982 are worth more than 1 cent. I feel obliged to also tell you, though, that it’s still illegal to melt down any U.S. coin. The copper in the old penny, though, is worth more than the penny.

But I digress. As I looked at these various pennies, I found myself taking mental snap shots of the various years in my life.

For instance, when I picked up a coin dated 1963, I immediately remembered being in the 6th grade in North Carolina and learning of President John Kennedy’s assassination.

Upon examining a coin marked 1968, I remember the shooting of Martin Luther King Jr., then later that same year, the assassination of Robert Kennedy. By then, I was a teenager at North Charleston High School.

A coin stamped 1969, reminded me of watching the moon landing with one of my brothers and a friend from church.

As the minutes and memories ebbed and flowed, a 1972 coin gave me pause to remember my first voting booth experience in a presidential election.

These moments in time, brought back merely by squinting at the small numerals under a lamp near my chair in the den.

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There were a couple of other coins that jogged the memory bank. The end of the Vietnam War, birth years of children and grandchildren. I even managed a wry smile when a still somewhat shiny penny with the year 2000 made its way to my dry, suntanned hands.

Remember the craziness that accompanied the end of 1999 and the dawning of 2000? Would the world’s computers crash because they weren’t programmed properly. Would credit cards and gas pumps not operate due to unforeseen programming deficiencies? There were even some doomsayers predicting satellites would start falling from the sky when the computers malfunctioned.

It seems ludicrous now that those thoughts even entered the national psyche.

I eventually quit looking at the coins and casually dumped them all back where they’d been for some time. I did discover that deep in that pile of loose change were a couple of wheat pennies, as they’re called. These were made up until 1958 and are valued by beginner collectors. The Lincoln Memorial was printed on the back of pennies until 2008, pennies since then show the Lincoln shield.

Did I discover any great monetary treasure in that jar that’s only moved when the dresser is cleaned? Not at all. But sometimes, just knocking the dust off some old memories is beneficial.

A penny for your thoughts? I’d say on this particular occasion I got the better end of the deal.

Reach Warren at

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