Round And Round

I got a 1940 nickel in change today.  Actually, the wife got it, and immediately turned it over to me.  Damn!  The thing’s older than I am, and in much better condition.  Did grandpa die, or did someone have their coin collection raided?  It obviously hasn’t been in constant circulation.

The word nickel, meaning a five-cent coin, came from the fact that they were originally stamped from the metal, nickel, when it was not popular for industrial and electronic uses.  Canadian ones have been made of brass, during WWII, and now only nickel-coated steel.  There’s a giant, twelve-sided, 30 foot diameter, 2 foot thick replica, built of nickel-containing stainless steel, sitting at a Sudbury, Ontario mine.  It was erected in 1951, to commemorate two-hundred years of digging nickel out of the ground there.  Google “Big Nickel.”

While shopping at one store, I thought about buying my Toronto Sun at another.  I pulled all the change out of my pocket, and almost fainted.  I had, not one, but two, American quarters, one a “State” quarter, although not one I needed for my collection.  I must be getting old, not to have noticed American money.  I always used to check my change.  I immediately placed them in our “going to the States” can, when I got home.

With the wife’s worsening mobility and allergy problems, I do a bit more of the day-to-day shopping, and therefore end up with more change, which I get rid of, buying my newspapers.  There was a time when I could tell you exactly how much change I had in my pocket, and what coins made up the total.  Apparently, no longer!

Canada recently stopped stamping and issuing pennies.  The Federal Government was good enough to use my tax dollars, to print and supply signs to stores, explaining what would happen.  Silly me, I thought it would be straight-forward.  If a bill being paid in cash, ends in one or two, or six or seven cents, it would be rounded down.  If it ended in three or four, or eight or nine cents, it would be rounded up to the next nickel.  It’s not like every store has a different system, but there’s lots to go around.

Canada leads the world in the use of debit cards; so, many of these charges involving cents are irrelevant.  Debit or credit card payments are always exact amounts.  The term cents is mathematical.  Pennies are the physical things the government doesn’t make anymore.

Stores will still accept pennies if you offer them, although one woman fellow-shopper told me of a clerk who insisted, “We don’t take pennies anymore.”  “You’d better call your manager then, because they remain legal tender for the next 6 years.”  Some clerks will still give pennies in change, if they have them in the till.  Most stores do the round-up/round-down thing.

The Real Canadian Superstore rounds down, anything below the next 5-cent level.   My $1.50 newspaper, with 8 cents tax, costs me $1.60 almost anywhere but there, where it’s only $1.55.  If I use one of the self-checkouts, I have to insert the $1.60, to get the machine to finalize the sale, and then it refunds me a nickel.

Pennies have largely disappeared from commerce.  A couple of Canadian banks have instituted coin recovery schemes, by setting up pinball-sized automatic coin-counters in their lobbies, similar to those found in many grocery stores.  The grocery store no-arm bandits have a lower pay-out than Vegas slot machines, quietly eating nine cents of every dollar, and returning only 91%.

The ones in the banks pay out 100%, which they hope you then deposit with them, but getting sequestered coins back in circulation (or, out of circulation, in the case of pennies) is the name of the game.

The crazy cat lady used to have a glass umbrella stand, filled to the brim with pennies.  The last time we visited, it was empty and forlorn.  She admitted that she had rolled all of her pennies and turned them in at her bank.  Next time I see her at the Farmers’ Market, I must see if she’ll admit how much they totalled.  It must have been about $100.

I still find the occasional penny.  I had accumulated five in my pocket, and got rid of them at the grocery store on a bill that ended in 80 cents….and looked down and picked up another one off the floor.

The grandson meets young people who somehow think that pennies cannot be spent anymore.  Several other young lads where he works use them to play penny-toss, but don’t bother to pick them up when they’re finished.  The other day, he picked up more than a dollar’s worth, abandoned at the edge of the parking lot.

Canadian or otherwise, what do you think of the demise of the Canadian penny?  Are you Americans ready for it to happen in your country?  What do the Brits want to get rid of, aside from the Euro?