It’s official. Canada is discarding all common cents.
No, that’s not a typo. Our neighbors to the north recently announced that they’re getting rid of all pennies in circulation. Any spent will get sent off to be melted down; once they’re gone, prices will be adjusted up or down to the nearest five cents to compensate.
“It’s a piece of currency that lacks currency,” Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said during hearings, noting that each one-cent coin costs 1.6 cents to make.
It’s not a bad idea. It’ll save a little in the budget and probably some pocket linings, too.
And if history’s any guide, it will never, ever catch on here.
It’s not that there aren’t people here who want to see the penny go (and occasionally, the dollar bill as well). When I worked the cash register at City News, it was easily the most annoying coin to keep track of. Like most businesses, we scattered the copper-colored coins into a “take a penny, leave a penny” jar to even out the change, effectively rounding prices up or down anyway.
And these days, there aren’t that many people who use cash, period. When even a pizza delivery can be put on a credit card, you know that bills and coins have pretty much fled the battlefield except for vending machines and dancers named Passion Flower.
Even so, trust me on this. Little Lincoln’s got some staying power.
There’s two reasons. The smaller one is that there just isn’t a lot of need. Sure, pennies cost more to make than their face value, and nickels are even worse. But dimes and quarters more than absorb that cost, and coins re-circulate enough times to make that a moot issue, anyway.
The bigger reason? Simple. When it comes to money, Americans are downright stodgy.
You know what I mean.
Remember the jokes and the head-shaking when the redesigned bills came out? (I still think Andrew Jackson looks like he lost a battle with a hair dryer, personally.)
Remember the cold reception to the Sacajawea dollar coin, and the Susan B. Anthony before it?
Frankly, the only alteration to the currency that I can remember drawing a smile was the state quarter series. And most people I knew viewed those as collectibles rather than currency – at least, until their next Diet Coke fix came calling.
But at least we have changed the currency before, if slowly. Now imagine the reaction to withdrawing it.
No one wants to to be the politician that killed Lincoln a second time.
Nonsensical? Maybe. But legitimate. In a weird way, the currency’s become a touchstone, something that rarely changes in a world that changes constantly. It’s familiar enough to inspire trivia or even tasteless jokes. (“Why does Lincoln on the penny face right when all other coins face left? You let a crazy actor get behind you just once and you never get over it .”) It’s even enduring enough to be a minor history project – my sisters used to tape pennies to a sheet of paper, one for each year they could find, going back decades.
Yes, that was one heavy sheet of paper. Thanks for asking.
Maybe touchstones like that aren’t such a bad thing. Think of the orange Broncos jersey that just got put back into circulation. Gaudy? Maybe. But it was also unmistakeably, uniquely us. Lacking it was like missing a tooth. Bringing it back just felt right.
And maybe that’s all the defense a penny coin or a dollar bill needs. It just feels right. When the feeling stops, then maybe we’ll be ready to change our tune.
Or at least to tune our change.