Our obsession with pressed pennies

With summer coming up, road trips are on the horizon. I mean, who am I kidding, road trips are always a part of our life with family not close, but summer seems to be everyone’s excuse to get out on the road and explore the country. This usually means day trips to favorite spots like museums, zoos, amusement parks, and the like. If you have kids, you may like to get them little mementos to commemorate their visits and travels, or maybe you like to do this for yourself. I was once an avid shot glass collector. Now I’m a Christmas ornament collector. It’s nice to remember where you’ve been and the experiences you’ve had.

My kids recently became fascinated with pressed pennies. I remember getting these as a kid, too, and thinking they were pretty cool, but my kids LOVE them. Honestly, I love that they love them because I can leave any place with a $0.51 souvenir and they are overjoyed. I watch friends at the same place we are fighting over the fact their kid wants the $24 stuffed animal that once they get home they won’t ever want anything to do with it.

It was kind of funny, though, because this has become a recent phenomenon and then I saw a blog post pop up on my newsfeed. It got me intrigued about pressed pennies and if there was more to them then the fascination of cranking the machine and getting a flat penny.

So here are some facts I’ve compiled in case you were as intrigued as I was.

It all started in Chicago.

The first pressed, or elongated, penny was produced in Chicago during the 1892-1893 World’s Columbian Exposition that commemorated the 400th anniversary of Columbus’s discovery of America. They had four designs for that event. However, the first designer on record is a man named Charles Damm, who made the design for the 1901 Pan American Exposition in New York.

Their popularity has seen a few shifts.

The first 23 years of existence seem to have been the most popular. Then around 1916, the intrigue seemed to die down. No one really knows why, but they just didn’t seem as popular until again in 1932. It’s said they are being produced at a rapid pace now and it’s hard to keep up with.

There are collectors.

I guess there are collectors for everything, so this isn’t much of a surprise. With how many machines there are today, it is impossible for a collector to collect ALL the pressed pennies, so many have designated specialized subjects (politics, holidays, space programs, etc.) There is even an organization, (TEC), The Elongated Collection.

You can find the machine closest to you.

There is a whole website designed for you to located pressed machines. Our family happened to stumble upon one at a local zoo and then again at a rest stop on our way to visit grandparents. Both times my kids were SO excited to pick their design, crank the machine, and see their newly smushed penny. My son has seemed to have lost his both times, but again, I am okay with this because we haven’t lost a $24 3-inch stuffed animal that they “had to have,” instead a single penny has been dropped for someone else to find.

It is illegal to mutilate coinage, except for the elongating/pressing a coin.

It is actually illegal to mutilate or falsify US coinage with the intention of creating counterfeit money. Since elongated pennies are used solely as souvenirs, the mutilation of them is not illegal

This pressed penny thing is actually a genius idea for who ever came up with it. We provide the penny, OURSELVES. We crank the machine, OURSELVES. Yet, we have to pay $0.50 to get the penny. What a money making scheme!

So the next time you are out and about, see if they have a penny pressing machine. Maybe your kids will be just as thrilled with this prize!


*I gained this information from the following sources: Rosato, Angelo A. (1990). Encyclopedia of the Modern Elongated: A Complete and Authentic Description of All Modern Elongateds, 1960-1978. New Milford, CT: Angros Publishers. ISBN 0-9626996-2-4. And http://www.pennycollector.com