News from the Tennessee Valley Columnists


What can a penny buy these days?

The pickle jar sat in the closet for years until its destiny was complete.

Every night I emptied my pockets and tossed spare pennies into it.

Now that the jar is almost full, I'm not sure what to do next.

The federal government is in the same situation, trying to decide if pennies are worth the trouble.

It costs about 1.23 cents to make a penny, which means we're losing $20 million a year on production.

A penny, however, is not entirely worthless.

In a pinch, you can use it as a cheap screwdriver.

You can end a war between kids by flipping a penny and letting one of them call heads or tails, which some diplomat should try in the Middle East.

You can win a new truck, if you use a penny to scratch off the lucky number in a fast-food contest. I usually win the small soft drink.

Some people create keepsakes by smashing pennies on railroad tracks.

I always heard this could derail trains, but penny smashing is more dangerous to people than to locomotives.

Among several casualties listed by is Rolyn St. Louis of Columbus, Ohio, who placed a penny on one set of tracks, then stood on the adjacent set of tracks to wait for a train. Unfortunately, the train barreled down the tracks on which he was standing.

Some people save pennies until they have enough to purchase something that they wouldn't ordinarily buy.

What can a penny buy?

Not much.

You can talk on the phone to your Uncle Earl in Memphis for 12 seconds. You can pay the .009 a gallon that gas stations tack on to the end of their prices. You can buy a wish at a well.

The coin's demise is evident at convenience stores where you can take one or leave one in the penny tray.

Even vending machines snub their noses at pennies.

As to its metal, the penny is a pretender. Since 1982, the U.S. Mint has made pennies out of cheap zinc, coated with a thin layer of copper.

Because of its puny value, pennies have few friends. Many folks consider them a nuisance, although a lobbying group is trying to save the coins.

If the penny dies, we'll demote the poor nickel to the bottom of the pickle jar and wonder what to do when it's full.

Scott Morris Scott Morris
DAILY City Editor

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