Even if you’ve never gone out of your way to collect pressed pennies, chances are you probably possess one of them somewhere. Indeed, with machines offering the decorative souvenirs stationed all over the world, they are rather difficult to escape. But there’s actually a lot more to the world of these stretched, elongated and embossed pennies than first meets the eye…
20. The first pressed penny was produced in 1818
At least, 1818 is the year in which the first documented pressed penny was produced. That was created by a jeweler in Vienna, at a time when the Austrian Empire itself was still freshly coined. However, it would still be a few decades before the item became commonplace as a souvenir.
19. The first American pressed penny appeared in 1892
Four different designs of pressed penny were minted for the 1892-93 World’s Columbian Exposition, in what would be their first appearance stateside. The expo was held in Chicago to commemorate 400 years since Christopher Columbus “discovered” America.
18. People have died trying to make them on train tracks
While most people stick to the machines that safely mass-produce pressed pennies, a few individuals go about it in a much riskier fashion. In 2014, for instance, 17-year-old Brandt Torres was pulled under a train and tragically killed while trying to press pennies on the tracks near the city of Livonia in Michigan.
17. It’s okay to press pennies in the U.S.
Despite statute 18 USC Section 331, which outlaws the mutilation of coins, it is perfectly legal to press pennies in the U.S. That’s because the law only forbids the alteration of coins if they’re being used as fraudulent currency – but as pressed pennies are souvenirs and not to be spent, they’re fine.
16. You could spend time in jail pressing pennies in Canada
North of the border, however, the law is a little different. Section 11(1) of Canada’s Currency Act, which outlaws the defacing or mutilation of coins, doesn’t hinge on whether said coins will be passed off as currency or not. So pressing pennies there is completely off the table.
15. It takes many pounds to pinch a penny
You may decide to build your own penny-pressing machine, but after contemplating the complex mathematics of it all, you will discover quite quickly it takes a tremendous amount of force to squash a coin – 5,070 pounds per roller, in fact. That’s a lot of pressure.
14. The official term is “elongation machines”
You’ve probably seen them called everything from a penny presser to a penny squisher or, indeed, a crusher. But the machines that produce pressed pennies are actually called “elongation machines,” and the results are technically “elongated coins.” Of course, that doesn’t have quite the same ring to it…
13. Pressed pennies are classified as “exonumia”
Exonumia – in case you’re wondering – are objects that look like money, but aren’t circulated as such. So pressed pennies fall very specifically under that definition: you shouldn’t try to pass them off as actual coins, but they definitely bear a strong resemblance to them.
12. The official name for pressed penny collectors is “exonumists”
In tandem with the technical term for the pennies themselves, the people who go out of their way to collect them also have their own “exo” branding. Indeed, the, well, collective name for them is “exonumists,” which sounds pretty exotic if not a little exoteric.
11. Disneyland parks get collectors really animated
Theme parks are always a great hotspot for pressed penny machines, and Disneyland is no exception. Each park contains a total of 40 different machines, each with three different designs. That’s a lot of collecting to do – and you’ll have to hunt high and low and spend a pretty penny to seek them all out.
10. A collector documented his travels to find new variants
Matt Masich is a self-described “elongate collector,” and he takes his hobby seriously. He’s even traveled around the state of Colorado just to search for pressed penny variants. Masich documented his journey in a 2013 article for Colorado Life Magazine, revealing in the process that he had dubbed the trip “The Penny Quest.”
9. Pre-1982 pennies are the best to press
And there’s a scientific reason for it, too. Cents – or pennies – made before 1982 are made of pure copper and when pressed remain the same color. Modern versions, however, are actually made from copper-plated zinc, and when pressed these coins show silver-colored streaks through the copper plating.
8. Collectors tend to specialize
With so many pressed pennies available, there’s pretty much no way to get your hands on every single one unless you started collecting decades ago. As a consequence, those new to the hobby usually specialize in certain subjects, such as certain expos or perhaps space-related or political coins. Others may spend their time trying to collect every coin from a particular type of machine.
7. There was no interest paid in pressed pennies for 16 years
After the first pressed pennies were introduced in 1892, interest boomed for a couple of decades. In 1916, though, the number of pennies being rolled suddenly dropped off – and it stayed that way for another 16 years. The exact reason for this lull is still unknown to this day; perhaps people needed a change.
6. There are catalogs for coins
Keeping track of a pressed penny collection can be tricky, considering the volume of coins out there. It’s little wonder, then, that books cataloging their availability have been published – and they’re hefty tomes. Indeed the most recent, published in 1990, came to a whopping 1,700 pages.
5. Collectors take a shine to their stash
Like many collectable items, pressed pennies are prone to weathering over time. As a result, enthusiasts have devised various methods for brightening and cleaning up their stash – from using a simple pencil eraser to covering their coins in an unusual combination of ketchup and baking soda.
4. There’s a special significance to those letters
If you’ve ever looked closely at a pressed penny, you’ll probably have noticed the letters engraved into one end and wondered what they mean. They actually signify either the coin’s designer, engraver or roller. Collectors have even established reference lists of known initials, so you can look up who was involved in the production of your souvenir penny.
3. There are many ways to save your pennies
Everything from prescription pill bottles and film canisters to gum containers and candy tubes have been used to host a pressed penny collection, with many such possible storage solutions listed on the Penny Collector website. And while anyone with a sizeable number of coins may have to get through a lot of candy as a result, they’ll at least have a more novel way to display them than by simply keeping them in a book.
2. Elongation machines stretch all over the world
One reason it’s difficult for collectors to hunt down every single pressed variant is undoubtedly the fact that they’d have to scour basically the entire globe for them. In fact, there are machines in places as far-flung as Liechtenstein, San Marino, Taiwan and Kazakhstan.
1. Pressed penny collectors come together
Perhaps the single biggest organization of pressed penny enthusiasts is The Elongated Collectors, which was first founded in 1966. Since then, however, the non-profit community has swelled to include more than 650 participants located all over the world. The organization has an annual meeting in the U.S., but members in other countries also take part in “mini-meets” to discuss their collections and swap any spare change.