End of the line
PICTOU COUNTY – For the end of penny, the buck stops here.
Feb. 4 marks the final day that pennies will be distributed to banks, though the Canadian dollar’s smallest denomination will always be legal tender.
However small, the penny has had a grand journey that began before Canada was even a country.
A NATIONAL SYMBOL
The smallest monetary unit known as the penny existed first in Canada as the British penny along with an assortment of French and Spanish coinage. Eventually, the need for financial stability led to a Canadian penny.
Dan Thompson of Westville is an accountant and coin collector in the area starting in the 1970s. “The first real Canadian penny was made in 1858,” he said. “Those pennies are quite valuable and would fetch around $100.”
From Confederation in 1867 until 2012, maple leaves have been an essential part of the penny. The artist who designed the current image, the maple leaf twig, was G.E. Kruger Gray, whose tiny initials can be seen on the penny.
“Kruger Gray was a British artist who has designs on coins all over the world,” said Christine Aquino, director of communications at the Royal Canadian Mint (RCM). His design has graced the penny since 1937.
The government was looking for new images on Canadian coins and several of Kruger Gray’s designs were selected.
He also designed the famous beaver image on the Canadian nickel.
“Interestingly, Kruger Gray would have preferred to see the maple leaves on the 5 cent piece and the beaver on the dime,” said Aquino, indicating the government had the final say.
In 2000, the penny, along with the other Canadian coins, went from being made of mainly copper to steel to save money. According to Beverly Lepine, chief operating officer of the RCM, this change has resulted in substantial savings of around $250 million.
TIME FOR CHANGE
The lowly penny however was beginning to weigh heavy in the pocket of the Canadian government. Though there had been steady talk about getting rid of the penny for the past decade, the Conservative government handed the penny its death sentence. Citing higher production costs and limited use, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty struck the last penny at the RCM’s Winnipeg Facility on May 4, 2012.
A recent poll by AngusReid Public Opinion on Jan. 15 said 68 per cent of Canadians agree with the government’s decision to take the penny out of circulation this year. The margin of error is +/- 3.1 per cent, 19 times out of 20.
Canada is neither alone nor first in this move to nix the penny.
New Zealand withdrew its penny in 1987 while Australia followed suite in 1992 and Aquino says their processes were examined as Canada moved forward.
“We looked at other countries who had removed pennies from circulation to get some key learning and best practices. Things are fine there and we are confident that things will be fine here in Canada as well.”
THE PENNY’S LEGACY
Though a decision of the government in Ottawa, the end of penny has sparked tributes and other recognition across the country, even right here in Pictou County.
Musician Dave Gunning of Lyons Brook grabbed the nation’s attention when he featured the Canadian penny on his album “No More Pennies.” The RCM had threatened to charge a fee for copyright infringement but later backed down.
Subsequently, Gunning went on a penny drive in support of the IWK Children’s Hospital in Halifax.
“I agree, it’s time for the penny to go,” said Gunning. “There’s no doubt that it has been a part of the Canadian story however.”
He says the end of the penny due to the fact it's no longer useful to the average Canadian is a sign of the times but that there’s nothing wrong with nostalgia. “It’s a reminder that time is marching on and that the past keeps on getting bigger and bigger.”
For business, some have a more palatable relationship with the penny.
Candace MacDonald has owned Heaven’s Delight Fudge and Candy Shop in New Glasgow for the past five years. You can’t buy anything with a single penny anymore, with the cheaper items going for at least a dime.
She looks back on the days when penny candies actually cost pennies.
"I remember finding pennies on the floors and sidewalks, and then dumping them on the counter of the candy store, hoping to get some treats,” she recalled. “Once in a while that happens nowadays, but kids come in with cash or debit cards now.”
FEBRUARY 4: THE LAST DAY
February 4, 2013, marks the last day that the RCM will distribute pennies to financial institutions, such as banks.
Aquino says there won’t be much effect to consumers initially once Feb. 4 rolls around.
“Pennies will still be legal tender after this date,” she said, though it will be up to businesses whether they choose to accept pennies.
Banks will still accept pennies, though some may require them to be rolled. Once they enter the banks, however, they leave circulation forever.
The Mint estimates that there are six billion pennies currently in circulation, enough to circle the globe 16 times.
The new rounding scheme that the government is recommending is identical to the Australian and New Zealand model. Prices are rounded up or down to the nearest nickel or dime.
“Some business will stop accepting pennies right away while others may not,” Aquino said. “It’s their decision when they implement the rounding scheme.”
However, the Mint’s website says businesses will be encouraged to begin rounding cash transactions on Feb. 4.
For well over 100 years, the penny has quite literally been with us: in our cars, our jean pockets, between our couch cushions and in jars and piggy banks in our homes.
By looking at pennies, we see the face of the Queen as a young woman in 1953 change into the elder monarch she is today in her Diamond Jubilee year.
Dan Thompson is sure when it comes to contact with the penny, nothing will change.
“Even though they’ve stopped making pennies, I think they will always be around us somewhere, probably where we least expect it.”