cents make sense
by Robin Summerfield
The proposed demise of Canada's
copper coin brings jeers and cheers
Loonie by loonie, quarter by quarter, nickel by
nickel and, yes, penny by penny, the Salvation
Army's Christmas Kettle Campaign raised $1.1
million in Calgary last holiday season.
If the penny's status as legal tender is revoked
by Jan. 1, 2009 -- as New Democrat MP Pat Martin
proposed it should in a private member's bill
introduced Wednesday in the House of Commons --
then donations will drop too, predicts the
campaign co-ordinator Rizwan Nathoo.
"The demise of the penny would have significant
While he couldn't predict by how much, Nathoo
wondered if people would be more inclined to
drop more nickels in lieu of those pennies, or
less change altogether.
The unassuming penny -- the steel, nickel and
copper one-cent coin stashed away in Mason jars,
long-forgotten in dresser coin trays and largely
ignored on sidewalks across Canada -- is under
Martin said Wednesday the penny, which
celebrates its 100th birthday this year, costs
too much money to make and languishes underneath
people's beds, in cookie jars and biscuit tins.
As Martin quipped on Wednesday: "Making cents
makes no sense."
He was referring to the $130 million it costs
the Royal Canadian Mint every year to keep
billions of pennies in circulation every year.
Even though there's 20 billion pennies in
circulation in Canada, last year, the Mint had
to produce 1.2 billion more new pennies because
the coin is often hoarded more than spent, he
And that just doesn't make any sense, Martin
New Zealand, Australia and a handful of other
countries have done away with the penny, Canada
should be next, he argued.
Martin estimated 20 million pennies -- about
60,000 tonnes worth -- aren't in circulation.
And with copper and other metal prices at record
highs, coins dating from before 1997 could fetch
double their weight if melted down (although
that is illegal).
Yes, there's a lot stacking up against the
"The penny is just a pain in the butt. People
won't bend to pick it up in the streets, so
that's the value they place in them," says
Robert Kokotailo, co-owner of Calgary Coin, a
local coin dealer.
Inflation has made the penny irrelevant, the
cost to make them is too high and people just
don't care about them, he says.
There's more: "There's nothing you could buy for
a penny. The only thing we need it for is to
make change for the tax."
Retailers could easily change their pricing to
adapt to the loss of the one-cent coin, he says.
"The cent has served its purpose," agrees
Michael Walsh, president of the Canadian
Numismatic Association, in Vancouver. (The
association was started in 1950 and has about
2,000 members across the country.)
"It's an impractical thing," Walsh says, arguing
that the rising value of bullion may soon make
it cost ineffective to produce each coin, which
according to the Royal Canadian Mint is about
.08 of a cent per penny.
Studies suggest the real cost of producing a
one-cent coin today is more like four cents.
Meanwhile, at University of Calgary's Nickle
Arts Museum, acting director and numismatics
curator Geraldine Chimirri-Russell says we
shouldn't get too nostalgic over the loss of the
penny, if that time ever comes.
"Change (evolution) is a process in the
production of money and that's something we have
to acknowledge." she says.
"Things move, things change, economies change,
we do change and numismatically (the end of the
one-cent coin) makes sense and that which is
left behind is an historical record," she says.
"The one-cent piece will always be there. It
will always be viable. It will always be
interesting," Chimirri-Russell adds.
Which, in a sense, is good news for real Pennys
everywhere, the walking, breathing ones who face
the demise of the coin they were named after.
For her part Penny Farfan, a University of
Calgary English and drama professor, will be sad
the day the penny dies, she says.
To wit: A favourite 1988 painting by Richard
Prince lives on her fridge in the form of a
postcard. It reads, "I never had a penny to my
name so I changed my name."
"I'm not sure the painting will seem quite as
witty if there are no more pennies left in the
world," Farfan says, "so in that respect it will
certainly be a sorry day if the penny is
Meanwhile, elsewhere on campus inside the U of
C's provost's office, executive assistant Penny
Bardsley said she likes her name, which her
father gave her.
And no, she won't feel less valuable if the
penny ends its run in Canada for good and passes
into history and coin collections everywhere.
Yet, there's one upside, Bardsley admits.
She'll never again have to hear that one
particularly annoying phrase -- penny pinching.
- Australia, New Zealand, Netherlands, France
and Spain are all countries that have given up
- Before 1876, Canada used pennies minted in
- It is estimated there are 20 billion pennies
-- 60,000 tonnes -- that aren't in circulation.
- To reduce production costs, the mint has
shrunk the size and the content of the penny,
moving from a coin the size of a quarter made of
copper to the shrunken coin of today that is 94
per cent steel.
- Penny wise, pound foolish.
- A penny spent is a penny earned.
- In for a penny, in for a pound.
- Put in your two cents.
- The penny drops.
- It costs a pretty penny.
- Take care of the pennies and the pounds take
care of themselves.
Quotes from New Democrat MP Pat Martin, who is
determined to see the country penniless.
- "You don't see a dish of free loonies."
(Referring to the trays beside so many cash
- "Making cents makes no sense."
(It costs about $130 million to produce pennies