An encased penny is a penny, that has been forcibly inserted into a prepared ring of metal. The metal encasement will typically have been stamped with an advertising or souvenir message. Encased pennies have been in existence for about a century but they are not quite as old as elongated coins, which arose in the 1890s. The invention of aluminum around the turn of the century made the encased pennies an easy and inexpensive souvenir or advertisement.
Aluminum is a strong and easily formed metal; to create encased pennies, a coining press bore obverse and reverse dies, as well as a collar. The dies formed the designs on the encasement, while the collar restrained the metal of the encasement during striking. The dies and collars served the same functions as the same parts on a standard coining presses.
For the simplest form (a round ring), a blank ring of aluminum with a penny in the central hole was dropped onto the anvil die. The press operator would align the coin manually, striving to keep the coin from being out of rotation with the designs of the ring. With both elements in place, the press would be cycled.
As they struck the encasement and penny, the dies formed the design elements on the encasement. At the same time, the metal of the encasement flowed outward until it came up against the collar. The metal surrounding the hole flowed inward, against the coin, locking the two pieces together.
Encased coins have often been nicknamed “lucky pennies,” since many of the pennies were inserted into encasements that beared messages and Western symbols of luck. The legend “I bring good luck” was common, as were such traditional good luck symbols as the horseshoe and four-leaf clover.
World War II temporarily halted the production of encased coins,. Most private minters supported conservation of metal for the war effort. Production and marketing of encased coins resumed shortly after the end of the war.
Encased coins were typically sold by door-to-door salesmen. Traveling salesmen sold encased coins advertised in catalogs of “various advertising novelties.” Business owners ordered the encased coins from the traveling salesmen, who then “ordered the custom-made pieces directly from the manufacturer.” Businesses could choose from an assortment of stock dies carried by the manufacturers or order custom pieces.
Many of the encased coins sold to merchants were touted as the souvenir no one would throw away. Many encased coins would say “Keep me and never go broke” which often went along with the lucky penny theme.
Custom encased coins cost more than those produced using stock dies. Thus, it is not unusual to find pieces that bear a custom message on one side of the encasement and a stock message on the other; such pieces would be cheaper than those with custom messages on both sides.
Encased coins fell out of favor as advertising pieces in the 1960s, as other inexpensive advertising novelties arose, including the Bic pen. Still, some private minters produce encased coins for businesses and social organizations even in the 21st century.
Throughout the years different shapes of encased pennies became popular as ways to set their advertisement apart from others. The round 32-millimeter encasement was the most common; with horseshoe-shaped pieces being the next most popular. There were pieces of other shapes such as a chamber pot, a bell, an arrowhead, or a teddy bear.