My Life:  The Story of a Penny

penny

It wasn’t always this way.  If you are old enough you may well remember.  Once upon a time, I was admired and looked up to.  I was put in the mouth of deceased humans to pay Charon the boat man for taking them to the afterlife.  People made a big deal out of receiving me.  I was avidly saved and respected.  Abraham Lincoln walked two miles to return me to a customer who had been overcharged.  Children were given penny banks when they were of age to appreciate my value.  Many youngsters found that with only five of me, they had enough money to buy a candy bar or go to a movie.  A very popular saying was “A penny saved is a penny earned.”

I was the first currency of any type authorized by the newly formed United States of America.  I was born (or minted at they call it) on April 21, 1787, when the Congress of the Confederation of the United States authorized a design for an official copper penny, later referred to as the Fugio cent.  Benjamin Franklin was my designer and on one side I had thirteen chain links interlocked with the words “We are one” representing the union of the first 13 American states.  On my other side, I had a picture of the sun and the sun dial with the words “Mind your business.”  Over the years, I have had many different designs printed on me.

old original penny

I was made legal tender by the Coinage Act of 1864.  I was so popular in my middle years that Abraham Lincoln’s visage was put on one side of me and on my other side was Lincoln’s tomb and the Latin words “E Pluribus Unum” meaning “out of many one.”  Honest Abe well knew the value of a penny.  For over two hundred years, I have represented the business and entrepreneurial spirit of America.  Those were my golden years.  There was no shame in saving a shiny new penny or even an old worn and scratched penny.

How the times and fortunes have changed my life!  Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say how the Fortune 500 has changed my life.  Inflation and stock values have continued year after year to erode my value until I am now just a shell of what I once was.  There is even talk of doing away with me as not worth the metal it takes to mint me.  People leave me in little baskets at convenience stores and young children simply drop me or throw me down the street.  I get run over by cars, motorbikes, bicycles and pedestrians.  Hardly anybody will bother to pick me up off the sidewalk.  I am looked down upon and despised.

5.-Frugality-1024x524Those who say that I am not important or who ignore me are part of a new generation that values image over substance.  The word “frugal” is now associated with cheap and the word “thrifty” is associated with the idea of miserliness.  It seems the world of finance is dominated by short-sighted individuals who have forgotten the old values that made this country great.  Hard work and prudence were values that resonated among the early pioneers like so many notes in a great symphonic piece.

piggy bankWith hard work, you earned a penny.  With prudence, you saved your pennies until they became dollars.  In the old days, no one would ever have thrown me away or ignored me when laying in the street.  Too many people have forgotten the value that I represent.  From early times, there have been people who really understood my value.  Even before I was an official U.S. coin, the value of a penny was recognized by some.  I regard these people as paragons who really understood the meaning of money.  Let me tell you a few of their stories.

Back in the days of Jesus Christ, there was a poor widow who gave her last two cents.  The story is told by Mark 1:41-44 in the New Testament:

Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury.  Many rich people threw in large amounts.  But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.

Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others.  They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”

Both Jesus and the poor widow understood the value of money and that it was not how much money you had but what you did with it that mattered.

Then, there is the story of little Hattie May Wiat.  This was a young girl who lived in Blue Bell Pennsylvania around the end of the 19th Century.  She loved to go to a nearby church but it was often so crowded that she could not find a seat.  She decided to start saving her money to help build a bigger church.  Her parents were very poor and sadly she died about two years after she had started saving her pennies.

When they were preparing her body for burial, they found beside her a little purse with fifty-seven cents inside and a note scribbled in her handwriting which read, “This is to help build the little church bigger so more children can go to Sunday School.”  This so inspired the minister of the church that he started a fund-raising campaign that turned Hattie’s initial pennies into nearly a quarter of a million dollars.  The church was expanded and many more people would eventually be able to come to church.

penniesHattie had faith in money.  Money requires faith but it is a faith that rests on the good that money can do and not simply how much money one can acquire.  Hattie had this kind of faith and it persisted beyond her death.

A more recent story is about John the runner.  John goes out jogging four or five times a week regardless of the weather.  Some days he feels great running and other days he is just anxious to get his run over with.  Nevertheless, no matter how long he has run or how tired he is from his daily run, if John sees me on the street, he will always stop to pick me up.

frugallivingbubblessmall.jpg

John believes that if he becomes too proud to pick up a penny, where will it end?  When will he become too proud to pick up a nickel or a dime?  John brings me home in his fist and puts me in a large glass jar shaped like a coke bottle.  I am in good company there with quarters, half dollars and even some Susan B. Anthony dollars.  When John is ready to go on a vacation, he takes me down to the bank and converts me into cash for his trip.

John does not relish wealth or the mere accumulation of money.  It is not his greed that compels him to pick me up but his acknowledgement of the symbolism that I represent.  Whether it is a hundred-dollar bill or one penny laying on the ground, the meaning is the same.   Money should never be taken for granted.

There are hundreds of other stories I can tell to show you that many people throughout history have understood the idea that “if you watch your pennies, the dollars will take care of themselves.”  This is still a very valuable lesson that needs to be taught in all finance and business classes.  From what I see, it is a lesson that too many people today have never learned.

dollar-sign-made-with-real-shiny-pennies-as-tile-sheets

So, the next time you see a penny on the street, think about my life and what it stands for.  Do not think I simply represent 1/100 of a dollar.  I represent far more than that.  I represent the start of a global business.  The start of a financial fortune.  Even more importantly, I represent the start of needed surgery for a poor child in a developing country.  The start of a fund to help protect the environment.  The start of a young girl’s education.

Time for Questions:

Do you stop to pick up a penny?  What does frugality mean to you?  What does thrifty mean to you?  Do you think being frugal is a vice or a virtue?  Do you save for a rainy day?  Do you think credit cards have made the idea of thrifty better or worse?  Why?

Life is just beginning.

The question is very understandable, but no one has found a satisfactory answer to it so far.  Yes, why do they make still more gigantic planes, still heavier bombs and, at the same time, prefabricated houses for reconstruction?  Why should millions be spent daily on the war and yet there’s not a penny available for medical services, artists, or for poor people?  Why do some people have to starve, while there are surpluses rotting in other parts of the world?  Oh, why are people so crazy?”  — Anne Frank

 

 

 

 

 

 

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3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Jeanine
    Jul 20, 2017 @ 06:24:15

    I usually pick the penny up. An old rhyme plays in my head every time I find a penny, “Find a penny, pick it up. All day long, you’ll have good luck.” The superstition does not stop there. If the penny is tails side up, do not pick it up because it is bad luck, instead, turn the penny heads up and leave it there for the next person to pick it up. I have to have a lot of respect for the penny as I remember the time almost 36 years ago when my husband went on strike and I was not working. We had a tub of pennies, and back in that day when I rolled $42.00 worth of those pennies, it was enough for food shopping for one week!!!
    Loved your blog.

    Reply

  2. johnpersico
    Jul 20, 2017 @ 19:48:50

    Thanks Jeanine. Love your story and your verse. I did not know that one or I would have tried to build it into my story.

    Reply

  3. jeanine
    Jul 21, 2017 @ 19:38:26

    🙂 Thank you. Your story was great without it.

    Reply

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