Skip to main content

No Such Thing as U.S. Pennies

By George W. Powell, Jr.

Like a lot of us 70-plus collectors, I started out collecting mostly Indian and Lincoln cents that I received in change. But when I had more money, I also collected nickels, dimes, quarters, halves and silver dollars. Most of the silver dollars I received as a gift at Christmas, birthday or was paid for doing odd jobs. When I was a kid back in the good old days, you would get Indian cents, wheat cents, some “V” nickels or Shield nickels and Buffalo nickels, Mercury dimes and Standing Liberty quarters in change. But I never found or collected any pennies.

I have read a lot of stories about folks finding pennies and some dealers listing pennies for said in their ads. They must be selling English pennies because, as far as I know, the United States mint has never minted a penny in all of the 200-plus years they have minted coins starting back in the 1790s. If I’m wrong about this, let me know.

When this country first got started, we used coins from all over the world and a lot of them were English pennies. When you think about it, that’s how the 10 penny nail got its name: it was the weight of 10 pennies.

If I buy something that cost $1.14, they say that will be a dollar and fourteen cents and then ask if I have any pennies. I tell them sorry no, I don’t have any pennies.

The U.S. has minted coins with the word “cent” or “cents” on the reverse of the half cent, large cent, small cents, two cent, nickels and the 20-cent coin. On some very early dimes, quarters and half dollars, there is the letter “C” for cents. Back in 1883, we had the “V” nickel that did not have the word “cent” on it when it first came out, and boy was that a mess. So the Mint added the word “cent” on it later in that year.

Using the word “penny” and not “cent” is a small thing to most people but, when you think about it, most folks don’t even know what kind or how many kinds of metals are used to mint the coins, what’s on it or what the design is or what it’s for.

Most folks don’t know that the value of the coin was the value of the metal to make it back when we first started minting coins in the U.S. and, as the cost or value of the metal went up, the size of the coinage got smaller. This is why we have the coins the sizes they are today.

The more we learn about the coins we are looking at and collect, the more we can enjoy them. But remember, the U.S. Mint has never minted a penny! A lot of people say it has never made a penny, either. This is just my viewpoint.

This Viewpoint was written by George W. Powell, Jr., a collector from Greenville, N.C.

To have your opinion considered for Viewpoint, email submissions to numismatics@aimmedia.com.