National Geographic : 2010 Feb
PHOTOS: MARK THIESSEN, NG STAFF. PENNIES COURTESY RAY DILLARD AND PETE AND CHRISTINE MORELEWICZ HISTORY Uncommon Cents In 1893 the ultimate cheap souvenir was born. That's when a Chicago jeweler used a metal-rolling machine to stretch coins and press the words "Columbian Exposi- tion" onto them. Today coins are flattened and impressed with an image at thousands of U.S. tourist spots and as far away as China, says George Strang, whose Press-A-Penny firm manu- factures rolling machines. American customers put in two or four quarters plus a penny. Collectors design and press coins to trade online, while entrepreneurs squish them to hype prod- ucts, say "Merry Christmas," and sell as wedding favors. Few of the coins are worth a lot in dollars, but they can harbor priceless mem- ories. Collector Ray Dillard recalls a souvenir penny with a Hawaiian king on the front and a hand-scratched list of Pacific battles a WWII soldier had added to the back. ---Marc Silver 1893 • columbian exposition The first elongated penny is from this Chicago fair, held in honor of Columbus's arrival in America. tHe pledge of allegiance Prayers and pledges are popular. This penny predates the 1954 addition of "under God." 1904 • st. louis world’s fair This rare coin plays on words. A "pike" is a fair midway. At a 1994 auction, one sold for $4,000. 2004 • west nile virus When devising a new design, "rollers" ask themselves: What's in the news now---and will it sell? 1935 • world series Sports became a popular topic as a collecting craze swept the nation in the 1930s. 1927 • lindbergH’s fligHt In this era, elongated coins often had a punched hole or two for a key chain or necklace. 1977 • Hindenburg A detailed anniversary design---bursts of lines, clouds of smoke---pops off the penny. 1991 • desert storm The 3-D flower is a result of hand engraving. Acid etching is faster but lacks dimensionality. 1963 • oswald sHot The coin is a dime. The image is taken from the famous photo of Jack Ruby shooting JFK's assassin.