Over the Hill

Let’s stop minting pennies and nickels

Riddle: What collects on top of my chest of drawers besides dust?

If you said “coins,” you’re right. This week I made one of my periodic trips to the bank lugging a bag of pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters.

As usual, the bag contained no half-dollar coins. Nobody gives us half dollars in change anymore. I guess half dollars are too big, heavy and clumsy to deal with in a cash register. I also remember how a half-dollar in a pants pocket took more room than two quarters.

I guess I should also mention silver dollars, but they’re usually found these days only in coin collections. I wonder if they’re still used in Nevada at all.

But today I’m only going to talk about pennies and nickels. And it’s with regret that I say our government should stop minting pennies and nickels. Our incurable inflation has robbed pennies and nickels of any value. I say that with regret because as a boy in the 1930s pennies and nickels brightened my life.

My father gave me a weekly allowance of 10 cents. On summer Sundays, we often visited a park where I would spend one nickel for a merry-go-round ride and the other nickel for a bottle of orange soda pop.

Pennies and nickels were valuable then. You could buy a penny postcard from the Post Office and write your message on the back of it. The one-cent postage stamp was printed right on the front. Or if you wanted your correspondence to be private you could send a letter in a sealed envelope, via first-class mail for three cents. Today that costs 49 cents.

When I was a boy in East Penfield, N.Y., I was familiar with the candy counter at Byron Gifford’s general store. I wish I’d made notes of the names of the penny candies there. I never dreamed they would disappear in the fog of history and inflation. But I do remember full-sized candy bars cost only a nickel.

Another treat of the 1930s was a trip to Rochester and a visit to the toy department of a five-and-ten-cent store. A nickel could still buy something there.

But I’ve read several reports that the making of our nickels and pennies costs our government more than these coins are worth. A penny costs about 1.7 cents and a nickel about eight cents.

Canada stopped minting pennies in 2013. If you’re paying cash there, they round the price up or down to the nearest nickel. But if you’re charging something, the price isn’t changed. I read on the Internet they do fine without actual pennies.

I doubt anyone today can find anything to buy for a penny. I also seriously doubt there’s anything out there for a nickel. If you know of something priced that low, I’d love to hear about it.

A penny (certainly) or a nickel (probably) won’t buy anything anymore. Those once-vital coins are now junk. The prices of everything have inflated beyond those little coins’ values. They are now of value only as arguments to justify raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour.

Phil Dirkx’s column is special to The Tribune. He has lived in Paso Robles for more than five decades, and his column appears here every week. Reach Dirkx at 238-2372 or phild2008@sbcglobal.net.