May this celebration be the U.S. penny’s last

If it’s a penny for your thoughts and you put in your two cents worth, then someone, somewhere is making a penny.”

Comedian Steven Wright

Just in time to coincide with our economic crisis, the U.S. Mint last week unveiled four new designs for the penny, the first changes to the 1-cent coin in 50 years.

Congress might as well vote to uphold our eternal commitment to the U.S. Standard Measurement system while we’re at it. (You know, “feet,” “inches” etc.) Since we are so determined to help our children compete in a “global economy” against math whizzes from other countries. But we digress.

We’re modern. We bank online. Yet we’re getting four new pennies.

The new coins are part of the government’s commemoration next year of the 200th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birth. The pennies will have the famous Lincoln profile on one side, but the Lincoln Memorial will be replaced on the other side by new images — a log cabin will be the first — with a new one being introduced every three months.

If Lincoln were here, he would of course have something funny and wise to say about the whole thing. (He did say, “If I were two-faced, would I be wearing this one?”) He might note, as many reasonable people have, that it costs more than a cent to create a penny. (About 1.2 cents these days.) There were 8.23 billion pennies minted in 2006, according to the U.S. Mint. The agency spent about $44 million to produce pennies in 2006, compared to $30 million in 2005.

Never mind the cost, pennies are a pain. Carrying them, counting them, letting them pile up until they amount to something. Apparently we keep cranking them out and circulating them because some people like to collect them. It’s turning into a very expensive hobby for the country.

Some argue that we should keep making pennies because of their “historic relevance.” Well, if we stop making them, they’ll be even more historic. They’ll also be worth more for the collectors. Because the fact is, pennies aren’t relevant. They are archaic. They slow transactions down. They require their own little dish at cash registers because you always need one when you don’t have one, or need to dump some if you do, and they are too small, monetarily, to put in the tip jar.

Lincoln, on the other hand, is always relevant. It’s not like the penny is our main tribute to him. That would be embarrassing. There’s the $5 bill. Oh, and something a bit more fitting — that awesome and inspiring Lincoln Memorial.

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