A Penny For Your Thoughts

See a penny, pick it up; all day long you’ll have good luck.

When I found a 1914 penny in the back seat of my grandfather’s Chevy station wagon back in the late eighties, my eyes lit up! I was convinced that it was worth A LOT of money!

I knew nothing about 1914. I didn’t know that it was the year Babe Ruth made his major league debut; I didn’t know that it was the year that the first signal light was installed; I didn’t know that it was the year Mother’s Day became a holiday; I didn’t know — at least then — that it was the year WWI started. I simply knew that I had a prized possession.

I recall holding the penny in my palm and staring at it for several minutes before placing it in the pocket of my corduroy pants. In fact, it’s the first time that I used what is recognized as the “watch pocket” — the tiny 19th century pocket sewn in behind the regular pocket. (Levi’s jeans have them, if you need context.)

Later that evening, I showed my prized possession to my dad and asked if he could take me to a local brick and mortar coin shop. The one that we went to, in downtown San Jose, isn’t there anymore, but I recall that it was near a pan dulce (sweet bread) bakery.

When we walked in, there were hundreds of coins on display all over the store. I gave the penny to my dad, and he handed it to the clerk for an official appraisal.

While he inspected the penny for blemishes and authenticity, I was already imagining what I would buy! I could barely contain my excitement. And then I heard words that would make Abraham Lincoln turn over in his grave:

“It’s worth about .80, but I’ll give you $1.00 for it.”

One dollar! I couldn’t believe it! I wanted to cry. I reluctantly accepted the dollar, and walked out. As much as I coveted having a dollar at that age, at that moment it felt like a worthless piece of paper. I wanted my penny, and it was gone.

Today, my penny would be 102 years old, and worth about $20. And while its journey is impossible to trace, I hope that it finds its way into the hands of a little boy who won’t sell it for a buck.

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