Peter Black, an ending to all fine things must be. My husband ordered the cake for the book release. Below is a partial eulogy of the little cent.
Many of us struggle with mixed emotions before the face of extinction. Extinction brought through the decision to rid life of the one-cent piece.
For a large number, appreciation has slowly given way to indifference over the years. For many others, an almost romantic connection to the coin fosters sadness and nostalgia at the abolition of the little cent.
For those of us who considered the penny as a friend in addition to a currency, commerce derides the sentiments of our hearts.
It was my honour to research the legacy of the humble copper coin, to be associated with its robust heritage, to trace its path from inception to demise. I have been privileged to share its richness in the lives of the older generations, to learn how it mushroomed into ever-expanding uses and pastimes. I have been inspired to capture the memories, the joys, and the meanings of its possession.
I have seen the penny erode in value, heard debates and arguments in support and in rejection, among friends and with strangers. Then in winter of 2013, the shiny copper, the only denomination of its colour, was taken from us Removed from circulation. Never to be distributed again.
Many will pay tribute fondly to the penny as the workhorse of Canadian commerce, a tribute born out of the recognition of the coin as the foundation for all money used in public service. Recognition that specific numbers of one-cent pieces form the larger monetary denominations.
Many others will measure the price of its metallic composition—copper, zinc, steel—those changes driven by public accountability for profit. They have labelled it an inconvenience and a nuisance. They have judged it by its weight and unwieldiness, as useless at best. Or as a waste of time when counted at tills, or being rolled and processed.
For me, however, it is more pleasant and desirable to recall the penny as an ambassador serving its beloved Canada….
Friends, what comfort can I extend to your gloomy hearts today? What beyond the knowledge that the penny has given Canadian history a copper workhorse, which throughout 155 years has fortified the coffers of this nation and its people?
The penny paid for goods and services, supported the needy, and assured the survival of many. A pledge that could be honoured no more.
Now for the wider good of the country, it has been declared that the penny's useful days have passed, its tiny life squeezed by inflation's ruthless hand. Its final run complete, in the winter of 2013 it was summoned back to the Mint to be converted into another form.
To be recycled into its composite elements. Transformed from its little shape which attracted protests that it was a nuisance, the unassuming circle that met rejection and scorn from many in its last years. It makes no demand as to what embodiment the transformation should be, but goes to rest hoping that it will be beautiful and relevant.
Every one of us knew the penny personally. We spent it. Received it. Touched it. Counted it. Picked it up. Rolled it. Emptied it. Tossed it. Forgot it. Hated it and loved it. Loved its brilliance, its power, its charitable acts, its beauty, its symbolism.
We will miss the penny. It will be described in the past tense to the next generations, silent in the hallowed sanctums of museums. Many of you may treasure its possession more acutely now that it has been withdrawn. In this epoch, it will never be truly erased, for it may be tucked away in repositories of peanut butter jars, on shelves, under beds, and in drawers.
Historians, collectors, sentimentalists, children, poor, and an aging generation: mourn now more for yourselves than for it.
As in 1858 when molten metal created its being, molten metal will decimate its existence.
The penny has finished the race. It has fulfilled unto elimination, a privilege that was given from the year of its inauguration, until this twenty-first century in 2013. Now it cannot be more than a burden on the balance sheet. It cannot accomplish what it once did in commerce. It cannot control its rising production costs, so it bids you farewell.
May its metals be recycled for a noble cause.
May the memories of the penny be perpetuated in our hearts as a symbol of patriotism for our country, an appreciation for our past, an insight into our future.
May its departure be an acceptance of faith that speaks to our own mortality that “an ending to all fine things must be.”
Au Revoir, little penny.
And excerpt from Chapter 16. The full eulogy is found in Little Copper Pennies: Celebrating the Life of the Canadian One-Cent Piece (1858-2013)
Learn more of Susan Harris at www.susanharris.ca