Circulating penny rides off into the sunset

As I write this piece, the humble 1-cent coin sits silently on death row. By the time you read this, the Royal Canadian Mint and the coin-distribution system will no longer be shipping the coin. Not only that, but they will start recalling them, and business will be expected to round transactions off to the nearest five cents. This change, of course, will only affect cash transactions. All other forms of payment, from cheques to debit and credit cards, will still be accounted to the exact amount. For me, this is nostalgic for a number of reasons.

For one thing, as is true with many of you, my first exposure to coin collecting was trying to put together a date set from the family penny jar; the packing tube for a bottle of rye in the case of my family. That first collection, which had no significant value, introduced me to the concept that some dates were more common than others, and that some of the coins I was spending were not even from Canada. I suspect that was typical of many collectors. It isn’t uncommon for collectors to start a more serious collection around the 1-cent coin. It is a great place to cut your collecting teeth, as most of the coins are quite affordable, even in really nice condition.

Over the years, the coin has become a common part of collecting. Rob Turner has written books about the 1858 cent, Canada’s first. The series produced the remarkable 1936 dot cents, which we can all dream about, but few will ever own. More recently, 2006 saw a staggering diversity of 1-cent coins, combining various mint marks and metallic compositions. In fact, I am still not even sure anyone, including the Mint, has got the mintage numbers figured out for that year. Ultimately, as with most coins produced with the exception of the very newest, original mintage figures have little significance.

The 1-cent coins will be culled and melted, a process expected to be virtually complete in just a couple of years. I expect that it will only be a few months before we no longer see the coin in use, and after that, the important number for collectors will be how many are left in the hands of the numismatic community. The rules of supply and demand will take over, although there is a good chance the odd hoard or two will show up from time to time. The coin is also nostalgic because I was asked to testify to the Senate finance committee on the subject of the coin; perhaps the only time in my life I will ever be considered an expert in anything.

I suspect that they were looking for an advocate to give them some balance. Previous experts had been pretty much unanimous in their view that the coin had outlived its purpose. Prior to testifying, I did my best to find some real good reasons to keep the coin alive. My best efforts produced only emotional pleas, none that made financial sense. I ended up telling senators that I too, supported withdrawing the coin, but hoped that they would retain their legal tender status, and continue to be produced for Mint sets. I guess I won one and lost one. It’s time to say goodbye to the 1-cent coin. I’m not sure about you, but the last one I get in change is going to be kept as a keepsake.

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