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Do Pennies Still Make Sense?
In the biggest known penny cash-in, the company sent an armored truck last year, into which Knowles's pennies were loaded. Knowles watched helplessly as the truck sank into the mud in his yard. A tow truck rescued it. His years of collecting brought him about $1 a day -- $13,084.59 in all. Knowles, however, no longer saves pennies. "It's too big a problem getting rid of them," he said.
But others have their reasons for valuing the coin, which borrowed its colloquial name from British currency. The "cent" -- meaning 1 percent of a dollar -- has been struck every year since 1787, except 1815, when the United States ran out of British-made penny blanks after the War of 1812. "It's part of the fabric of American culture," said David Early, a spokesman for the government's Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission.
The penny took on the profile of President Abraham Lincoln on the centennial of his birth in 1909. The first ones carried ears of wheat on the tails side, but the Lincoln Memorial has replaced those. Four new tails designs with themes from Lincoln's life are planned for 2009 -- the first major redesign since 1959.
Those who want to keep the penny coin include small merchants who prefer cash transactions, contractors who help supply pennies and consumer advocates who fear the rounding up of purchases.
"We think the penny is important as a hedge to inflation," said executive director Mark Weller of Americans for Common Cents. "Anytime you have more accurate pricing, consumers benefit."
Scores of charities esteem the penny, which many Americans donate without a second thought. The wireless network Virgin Mobile USA recently launched a save-the-penny campaign. Its penny truck will travel cross-country to gather pennies for charity.
"People don't like carrying them around, so we dump them into the nearest bowl," said Teddy Gross, who founded the Penny Harvest charity drive in New York City schools.
Last year, students raked in 55 million pennies. They also bagged about 200,000 spare nickels. By the way, the Mint says nickels are also costing more to produce than they are worth.