Coin collector Cy Schaefer has had a passion for pennies ever since his brother got an Indian head penny in change for a pack of cigarettes as a young man in the 1940s. Here he shows an uncirculated 1909 VDB penny, the first year of the Lincoln penny designed by Victor David Brenner. The penny has the initials of the designer on its reverse side - a feature that was soon taken off.
(Photo: Kimm Anderson, St. Cloud (Minn.) Times)
ST. CLOUD, Minn. -- Those pennies rattling around in your car's cup holder won't be going away anytime soon, yet local coin enthusiasts think it's just a matter of time.
Questions regarding the penny's usefulness surfaced after Canada started phasing out this month its version of the penny. New Zealand and Australia also have discontinued their lowest-valued currency.
The U.S. penny is safe -- for now. According to the U.S. Mint, there are no plans to discontinue the penny, and it would require congressional approval to do so. But local coin collectors think the process of removing the coin will start within the next couple of years.
"I'm seeing a lot of people coming in wondering when the United States will follow suit," said David Steckling, owner of Gold-N-Silver Rare Coin Co. in St. Cloud. "Most people consider them a inconvenience."
Cy Schaefer has more than 12,000 pennies. He is the president of the Great River Regional Coin Club, which has 20 members.
He said he believes the government could decide to eliminate the penny as soon as next year.
"I don't think people care about pennies at all," Schaefer said. "It's excess change. They drop them on the ground."
Politics might play into continuing the penny, Steckling and Schaefer said.
The majority of pennies are made at the Denver Mint, and jobs would be lost if the penny was phased out, local experts said.
It costs 2 cents to produce a penny, Michael White, spokesman for the U.S. Mint, said. Pennies are about 60 percent of the Mint's production.
"A stand-alone penny doesn't buy anything anymore," he said. "The days of the penny gumballs are long gone."
Pennies were first introduced in 1793, and were made of copper, according to the U.S. Mint.
The coins made until 1982 were composed of 95 percent copper.
Those coins are now worth 2.3 cents each, said Schaefer, who started collecting coins 65 years ago.
But it's illegal to melt down a penny for the copper, he said.
Modern pennies are made of copper-plated zinc, and not worth much.
"I don't know of anyone who collects modern-day pennies," Steckling said. "Penny collecting is a hobby of the past."
If the penny is eliminated, the two local enthusiasts say prices will either be rounded up or down. For instance, instead of something costing $4.56, it would either be $4.55 or $4.60.
Until that time comes, Schaefer will continue picking up pennies on sidewalks and putting them in a jar. It might be worth something in the future.
"Everyone says to dump the penny," he said. "If nothing happens, I'll just get a big bag and give them to the grandkids."
Amy Bowen, St. Cloud (Minn.) Times