If you have ever visited an amusement park, a large zoo or another family-oriented vacation spot, you have probably seen penny-press machines. You put in your penny along with the fee—typically 50 cents—and watch while the machine flattens the coin and adds a design for an instant souvenir. There are so many good reasons to collect pressed pennies and other coins, also called elongated coins. They’re super affordable, highly portable, easy to store, readily available and they tell a story about your travels. Whether you are an avid accumulator of elongated pennies or have simply wondered about how these kitschy collectibles came to be, read on to learn some little known facts about pressed coins.
1. They Have Been Around For Two Centuries
The first elongated coins were reportedly made by a Viennese jeweler in Austria in 1818. The first penny press was a hand-cranked jewelry mill.
2. They're "Made In The USA"
Pressed pennies made their American debut at the Chicago World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893. There were four designs, all of which commemorated the 400th anniversary of Columbus discovering America. Other firsts that appeared at the expo included the ferris wheel, picture postcards and Juicy Fruit gum.
3. The Pennies Are Squeezed By Rollers
Coins are squeezed between two rollers. One of the rollers has an engraved surface. While one roller flattens and elongates the coin, the other presses the custom design into it.
4. Pennies Work Best
Although any coin can be pressed, pennies are preferred. The darker color of the copper and zinc from which the coins are minted allow designs to show up more clearly. In fact, older pennies are best. The best pennies to use are from prior to 1982, when the pennies were made of 95 percent copper.
5. Bring Your Pennies To Disneyland
Disneyland Resort has over 150 different commemorative images that can be pressed onto a penny, nickel, dime or quarter.
6. There's An Official Name For Pressed-Penny Collectors
People who collect pressed pennies are called exonumists. Exonumia is a collection of items related to money that are not intended for circulation, such as tokens, wooden nickels or encased coins. There are clubs and groups for exonumists as well as coin dealers who buy and sell certain elongated coins. Most collectors specialize in one field and only collect relevant coins.
7. It's Illegal In Canada
According to United States Code Title 18 Chapter 17 Section 331, pressing pennies is legal in the U.S., as long as you are not fraudulently trying to spend the coins. However, in some countries, such as Canada, it is illegal to deface coins. Instead, you can purchase metal blanks to use in the press machines.
8. They May Be Valuable
If you have been collecting pressed pennies for years or inherited someone else’s elongated coin collection, you might want to look into their worth. Currently, four books have been published cataloging elongated coins. “Encyclopedia of the Modern Elongateds” by Angelo A. Rosato is the most recent and most comprehensive volume available.
9. You Can Clean Pressed Pennies
While it is best to clean pennies before pressing them, you can use one of several methods to brighten elongated pennies. The best method depends on the age of the coin, as pennies have been made from different materials over the years. The simplest methods include rubbing with a pencil eraser, wiping with ketchup or scrubbing with a salt and vinegar mixture.
10. Those Letters Have A Meaning
Many elongated coins display a set of letters near the narrow end of the coin. These are the initials of someone involved in the coin’s appearance, such as the designer, original engraver or the maker of the roller. [h/t: Little Things]