A History of Pressed Pennies

Since I was young I got excited anytime I’d see a penny pincher machine. Whether it was at the local zoo or while away on vacation, I’d be begging my parents for some extra change so I could take home my very own penny souvenir.

1893_Columbia_Exposition_pennyThe first recorded pressed pennies debuted as an innovative attraction at the 1893 World’s Fair. Also known at the time as the World’s Columbian Exposition, in honor of the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus landing in America. Although there are rumors of pressed coins being used as jewelry by a Viennese Jeweler dating back to 1818 in Vienna, Austria. The World’s Fair penny cost a nickel and a coin to be pressed and the coin would be pressed between two industrial-strength rollers by a press operator. Out would come a squished coin in an oval-shape. It bore a stamp that had been embossed by a mold on one of the rollers that read: “Columbian Exposition 1893.”

Since the 1893 World’s Fair pressed pennies have gained popularity across the globe. You can find penny pincher machines everywhere from California to Japan to of course- Austria. Numismatists themselves have created their own following around the pressed penny; labeling themselves as exonumists. The name comes from exonumia coins, coins that are an oddball that don’t fit into standard definitions of money. Other examples of exonumia is arcade tokens, transportation tokens, and wooden nickels.

Pressed pennies continued to be a popular attraction among fairs and exhibitions, often serving as tokens to show you were there and to remember the event by. Around the 1930’s the machines got picked up by many tourist attractions when the owners started to realize the value of providing their customers with a cheap and interactive souvenir. There was a huge rise in popularity in 1980 when the pressing machines were introduced to Disney Parks. The parks got covered in these machines, offering coins for your favorite rides, attractions, and characters.

1818Viennese Jeweler Used Pressed Pennies in Jewelry

In more recent years exonumists have emerged and turned pressed penny collecting into a large hobby among collectors and coin enthusiasts. Collectors prefer to collect and smash pre-1982 pennies because current coins are predominantly made of zinc which makes the pressed penny appear more dark or worn. Exonumists will plan penny-smashing road trips to a mapped out route of machines- spending hours planning and traveling to get that special penny.

If you’re looking to get into pressed penny collecting start like you would with any coin collection: find something that intrigues you. That could be collecting all the pennies from a specific State, or collecting ones from a specific designer/engraver. You can find lists of pressing machines from websites like PennyCollector.com or PressedPennies.com. Or just be on the lookout for a penny presser wherever you go– there is a high chance you will run into them during activities you’d already be doing. Like going to the local amusement park with your family, or visiting the beach. As long as you have a bit of change you are always ready to press your very own new penny!

Another thing one might worry about before becoming an exonumist is if it’s legal; there is a common thought that it is illegal to deface currency. Penny pressing is legal in the USA and UK, but not in Canada. The United States Codes under Title 18, Chapter 17, and Section 331, “prohibits the mutilation, diminution and falsification of United States coinage.” Although, the foregoing statute does not prohibit the mutilation of coins if done without fraudulent intent or if the mutilated coins are not used fraudulently. But in Canada it is stated in section 11(1) of the Currency Act states that “no person shall, except in accordance with a licence granted by the Minister [Minister of Finance], melt down, break up or use otherwise than as currency any coin that is current and legal tender in Canada.” Furthermore, Section 456 of the Criminal Code of Canada makes it a criminal offence to deface circulation coins: “Every one who: (a)defaces a current coin, or (b)utters a current coin that has been defaced, is guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction.” So enjoy your penny pressing collecting — as long as you’re not in Canada! Or come visit us here in the States and collect some of our beautiful coins.

If there is a specific pressed penny you’ve always wanted then check out our ebay store for our collection of exonumia coins.

Thanks for Reading!

Collecting Pressed Coins

You’ve seen them around – at Disneyland, at amusement parks, at National Parks and museums.

The famous pressed penny machine just waits for you to give in to the temptation to create your own tiny souvenir with spare change.

The pressed coin will probably sit in your pocket and get lost in the wash a few days later, but hey, it was fun while it lasted.

Via "Coco" Mault on Flickr, every little kid's dream in a dinosaur park flattened coin.

Via “Coco” Mault on Flickr: every little kid’s dream in a dinosaur park coin.

But some collectors do favor these pressed, or elongated, coins, and keep them in their collections. They’re great for keeping memories of vacations or day trips.

Before the pressed penny machine, kids put pennies on railroad tracks for kicks in the hopes that passing trains would flatten them into an oval. Some then engraved the date into the pressed coin. (Rumors say this practice could derail a train, which has never been proven true – but it is risky for the person putting the penny on the tracks.)

An 1893 Columbian Exposition coin, one of the first elongated coins to be created.

An 1893 Columbian Exposition coin, one of the first elongated coins to be created.

The first actual penny pressing machine was at the World’s Columbian Exposition (the Chicago World’s Fair) in 1893, where visitors could press their pennies into various designs as souvenirs. They quickly gained popularity as visitors to the fair brought them back from their travels to show off to friends and family. Collectors can still find these coins today.

Via "Coco" Mault on Flickr.

A San Francisco Chinatown elongated coin, via “Coco” Mault on Flickr.

So how are elongated coins created? A penny, or more uncommonly another type of coin, is pressed between two highly pressured rollers. One of the rollers presses an engraved design into the coin.

Some question the legality of a pressed coin. While it is illegal to mutilate a coin for the purpose of counterfeiting, it is not illegal to change a coin for collecting purposes, without any intention of counterfeiting. So if you’re a fan of pressed coins, you have nothing to fear!

Do you own any pressed coins?


U.S. Coins

Numismatic Association