By Michelle McQuigge
The Canadian Press — Toronto
The phasing-out of the penny will lurch ahead today with the Royal Canadian Mint officially ending its distribution of one-cent coins to Canada’s financial institutions.
The move comes nearly a year after Finance Minister Jim Flaherty announced the demise of the penny, whose production cost came to exceed its monetary value.
But as it faces extinction in the pockets and tills of most Canadians, the humble penny is still in demand in some artistic circles where it retains significant value.
Renee Gruszecki, a Halifax-based academic and archivist, has spent the past year making a living through a jewelry business devoted primarily to preserving the country’s stray cents.
About 30,000 strategically sorted pennies fill Gruszecki’s home and eventually find their way into the accessories produced at Coin Coin Designs and Co.
Gruszecki, a long-time collector of lucky pennies, believes her pieces will help preserve a symbol that is both an object of superstition and a Canadian icon.
“The maple leaf is synonymous with everything Canadian. We all identify with it,” she said in a telephone interview. “Now it’s just no longer going to be present among us, so I’m saddened by that.”
The Bank of Canada’s Currency Museum has already taken steps to preserve the penny’s place in Canadian culture.
A mural consisting of nearly 16,000 one-cent pieces has been assembled at the museum to commemorate the coin’s history, said assistant curator Raewyn Passmore.
The mosaic, which depicts a giant penny measuring about two square metres, is comprised of coins ranging from the lustrous to the tarnished.
Passmore said the design was meant to honour a coin which, while lacking buying power now, enjoyed many years of prominence since its first minting in 1858.
“It was probably the most common coin in circulation at one point and probably the most useful for ordinary people,” she said. “We wanted to make a tribute to a sometimes overlooked coin.”
The penny’s current lack of value was the impetus for its demise, a point recently driven home to Canadians hoping to use their discarded coins to raise money for charity.
Jeff Golby, director of charity bank Chimp Fund, launched a publicity campaign shortly after the last penny was struck in an effort to persuade Canadians to discard their copper coinage into the coffers of cash-strapped organizations.
A massive penny party held in downtown Ottawa netted more than 120,000 cents, but it only served to starkly illustrated the coin’s economic shortcomings.
Canadians who want to dispose of their spare change, Golby said, could find better uses for it than stopping by a charitable penny drive.
“On some level you go, ’OK, it can’t hurt,’ but when you factor in what it costs to charity . . . in time, in rolling costs, it’s not a cost-effective way for charities to really actually net decent money,” he said.
The logistical challenges associated with the penny were among the reasons Flaherty cited for discontinuing the coin, adding that the economic toll worked out to about $11 million a year.
Retailers will be among the first to phase out the coin, and Canadians will see the effects almost immediately.
The Federal Government has issued guidelines urging store owners to start rounding prices up, or down, to the nearest nickel for cash transactions. Electronic purchases will still be billed to the nearest cent.
Internet search-engine giant Google is marking the passing of our penny with a dedicated doodle on its Canadian homepage.
And while some may lament the one cent coin’s end of days, it’s been a bit of a boon for penny wise entrepreneurs like Gruszecki.
Sales of her jewelry spiked as the coin’s demise drew nearer, she said, adding that Canadians’ disregard for the coin as a form of legal tender has not diminished their sense of its value.
“I hope my jewelry will serve as a means for them to save a penny and keep the penny in circulation,” she said.
“If you’re wearing it on a ring or you’re wearing it around your neck, you keep its visual presence certainly alive. If there can be an additional layer of meaning to it, all the better.”