Save Your Pennies

newsletter_headerjpg - 2Piggy BankThis weekend, my two boys decided they wanted the spend the money they”d been saving on a ping pong table. They scraped together their birthday/Christmas money, their allowance and chore money, and even dumped their piggy banks. Their dad paid for the table with our credit card then the kids paid us back. So here I go to the bank with a ziplock full of $25 in dimes, nickles, and pennies. Carrying all that heavy change around made me think about what currency was like in the 19th century.  Early on, bank notes were not trusted because if the bank failed, your note became worthless. Therefore people tended to prefer carrying their money around in coin form. But what form did those coins take?

I did a little digging at some of my favorite currency research sites*, and I thought I”d share some of what I found. Today we”ll look just at cents. A penny may not go far in our current economy, but back in the 1800″s they sometimes even made change for them–with half cents.

Half Cents

Half Cents

Half cent coins were made of pure copper and were nearly the size of a modern-day quarter. These were popular at the beginning of the 19th century, but as inflation drove prices upward, the need for such a coin dwindled. It was completely abandoned prior to the Civil War.

Large Cents

Large Cents

As you can see, the design on the large cents were nearly identical to that of the half cents. Yet, like the name implies, the large cents were made with twice as much copper as the half cents and were larger and heavier. When copper prices rose throughout the 1800″s, the large cents became too expensive to continue making, so in 1857 they started making small cents, the pennies we are familiar with today.

Small Cents

Small Cents

The Flying Eagle cent was introduced in 1856 and was minted for just 3 years before being replaced with the Indian Head cent. In 1909, the Lincoln cent became America”s first circulating coin to portray a president. It originally featured the “Wheat Ears” reverse design, which was changed to the Lincoln Memorial in 1959.

And did you know there there were also 2 cent and 3 cent coins? The 1864 Coin Act called for a 2¢ copper coin. This Civil War-era coin was America’s first and only 2¢ piece. It was also the first coin to carry the inscription IN GOD WE TRUST. The 2¢ coin was minted from 1864-1873.

2 and 3 cents

The 3¢ coin was forged from silver and many hoarded it during the war. When a shortage occurred, the government opted to change the composition to copper nickel. These new coins became known as 3¢ nickles because of the material used to strike them.

So what is a penny worth to you? Do you have a lucky penny? If you saw a penny on the ground, would you stop to pick it up? Did you ever save up your coins as a child to buy something special? What was it?


*Information gathered from the Littleton Coin Company .


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For those who love to smile as they read, bestselling author Karen Witemeyer offers warmhearted historical romance with a flair for humor, feisty heroines, and swoon-worthy Texas heroes. Karen is a firm believer in the power of happy endings. . . and ice cream. She is an avid cross-stitcher, and makes her home in Abilene, TX with her husband and three children. Learn more about Karen and her books at:

30 thoughts on “Save Your Pennies”

  1. Yes I pick up pennies! My mother always told that pennies found on the ground are reminders from the angels that we are loved!

    I saved and saved when young so that I could buy my own clock radio! That’s all it was a radio and a clock but I was proud of it!

  2. This is really interesting. I pick up every coin I find on the ground. in fact, I go out of my way to pick them up so often, it has become a joke for my husband. He always likes to tell the story of one time I saw a quarter on the ground and almost got hit by a car because I wanted to pick it up. I save and roll all my coins for extra spending money. I have some really old foreign coins and don’t know if they are worth anything or not. But, as a little girl in the early 70s, I found a bag of coins buried in the back yard of my house when I lived in New york. I still have them. Even if it’s not worth anything, it’s still my buried treasure that I found and makes for a great story.

  3. Interesting post, Karen. I always keep one penny in my purse–so I’m never completely broke. lol
    When I was growing up, there was a candy store about four house down from my grandparents. I suspect I didn’t save many pennies because they all ended up in the cash register there.

  4. Hi Karen, what a fun and informative post! I love pennies. “See a penny, pick it up. All day long you’ll have good luck.”
    That’s one of my mantras. I do pick them up. Right now my 20 month year old grandson gets a giant kick out of throwing pennies in any fountain we come across, so I am stockpiling them so I can hear him roar with glee. Janine, I love your buried treasure tale. You sure have a story in there somehow!

  5. People don’t use cash as much anymore! There’s a hotel in New York that still washes the change so it doesn’t dirty the white gloves of elegant ladies. It’s such a sweet tradition 🙂

  6. I always pick up money on the ground, but I don’t constantly scan the ground for money. I just found a nice shiney dime yesterday!

  7. Connie – I love your mother’s explanation. I always get just a little bit happier when I find a coin on the ground. I usually only pick up “silver money” but if there is a penny that is particularly shiny, I’ll bend down for that one. There is just something so fun about shinny, new pennies! 🙂

  8. Janine – I can just picture the beginning of a romance novel where the determined heroine refuses to budge from her treasure and the hero comes diving out of nowhere to save her from being struck by a car (or wagon if we are in the old west). Then together they go searching for the hidden treasure, she having developed a taste for that particular type of adventure ever since she dug up a bag of gold coins in the yard of her childhood home.

    That has best-seller written all over it! Thanks for sharing. I love that you still have that bag of coins you found as a girl. A buried treasure, indeed!

  9. Tracy – Penny candy has lured children for centuries, hasn’t it? Love that you keep a penny in your purse so you are never broke. 🙂

    Tanya – I can’t think of a better reason to save pennies. There’s just something magical about watching kids throw them into fountains. Makes me wonder what dreams they are wishing on. Or maybe they just love the splash. 🙂

  10. Sherri – You’re right about us not using cash much anymore. I use plastic almost always. it’s just so easy and fast.

    Thanks for sharing that tidbit about the hotel in New York. I love that they carry on that tradition even though I doubt many of their lady guests wear white gloves anymore. Sometimes the tradition itself is important to keep to remind us how to treat one another. Love it!

  11. Very interesting article. I taught high school and the students would leave coins on the floor. I would ask them to pick it up and they would say “I’s only a penny” to which i would say “But 10 of them make a dime” This small amount meant nothing to a student who had at least $5 per day for lunch.
    At the end of the day I would pick up the money and at the end of the year I would have collected anywhere from $25 to $75. Small coins mean nothing to young people. However, I pick up any coinage I find. Each one matters when put with others.

  12. Hi Karen,
    I still save pennies for my grown daughter. While most of us don’t see value in them, my daughter does and it’s cute to see her get excited when we give her a bag of pennies. Mind you, she’s over 30 now, but is thrifty and resourceful. So definitely yes, if I saw a penny on the ground, I would pick it up.

  13. Joye – I’m so glad you collect all that change. I hope you show your students at the end of the year how much money they could have saved if only they’d seen the value in the small amount to begin with. It’s a lesson in patience for our instant gratification world. I think if more people learned to save a little here and a little there, we would have less credit card debt in our country. That’s why I was so proud of my boys for using their own money to buy the ping pong table. Save today for tomorrow’s reward.

  14. Hi, Shelia. I have a few older coins, too. I’ve never spent the time to research if they are worth anything. It might be a fun project to tackle one of these days.

  15. Hey every penny adds up, so yes I pick up pennies… I eventually roll them up and take them to the bank. I have even got my little nephew doing it.

  16. Yes, I always pick up pennies – every little bit adds up. And I too have done it in the middle of the road lol. I have an uncle who has a huge collection of coins and he’s been buying my 2 girls mint sets since they were small. I have some silver dollars and a few miscellaneous coins that I’ve kept. Even very young, I would save up to buy my very own books (we usually went to the library so I didn’t own too many until I got older).

  17. Hi, Catslady! When they came out with the state quarters, my kids and I started collecting them to see how many different states we could get. Their interest eventually waned, but I thought it was such a neat idea to get people interested in collecting again. They still look at the backs of all the quarters they get to see what cool design they’ll find.

    They did something similar with the backs of pennies, too, with four different scenes from Lincoln’s life. Those are fun to run across, too.

  18. Karen, your post reminded me of something that happened years ago when I was expecting my first child. My nesting instincts kicked in big time and I was constantly scrubbing and cleaning, much to my husband’s dismay. One day I knocked over the penny jar and the coins fell into a bucket of water. My husband came home to find me pulling pennies out of the bucket and drying them on a towel. I still laugh when I think about the horrified look on his face. He thought I had completely lost my mind.

  19. I have a BIG jar of pennies that sits by my couch. When my kids were little hubby and I would throw any pennies from our pockets in there and once the jar was full (it usually took about a year) the four kids could divide up the money to share equally as long as they rolled the pennies up in the coin wraps for transport to the bank. There was usually anywhere from $70-75 in there and they’d plan for weeks what they’d spend the money on.

    We haven’t emptied it in years now – some day, if I ever have grandkids, I may pick up the tradition with them

  20. Karen, thanks for the informative post.
    I pick up pennies. They may not be worth much, but if you are a penny short, they come in handy. It is amazing how much those spare pennies add up. I have been saving wheat pennies for years and have a jar of them. We use them when we play card or board games.
    We have a small coin collection. My husband was a paperboy back in the late ’50’s and early ’60s and saved the change he got. He got some nice old coins – well they are old now : )

    My sister and her husband have a big bottle in the corner of their living room. They put their change in their for years. A few years ago, they emptied it and had enough to go on their first cruise. My husband puts his change in a coin stack bank every night. It doesn’t take long to have $40 or $50. Our son does the same thing and always has a bucket of change to fall back on when he runs short.

  21. Hi Karen. This was interesting. I always picked up pennies for was told it meant good luck. For a long time I’ve picked them up to keep GOD from being walked on. “In GOD We Trust” maxie

  22. I too pick up money,regardless of denomination. I’ve actually found dollars that way. I have some old coins too but none later than 1929. I have some silver dollars and some silver quarters. I accidentally turned in a roll of silver quarters for currency one time and they said it wasn’t a full roll it didn’t have the correct weight. Anyway I have some foreign money that my grandfather came home with in WWII and he gave it to me when I was little. I saved the state quarters. No mint sets. I saved my money to buy record albums, mostly the Beatles when I was younger. I probably lost thousands of dollars worth of vinyl when my house burned. Loved the post. I didn’t know about 2 cent coins.

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