There may be some diamonds in the rough among those piles of pennies that Canadians have socked away in jars, say local coin collectors.
As the penny heads for its demise, people may want to sift through their piles to find what could be much more than the one-cent face value, said Mike Tarantino of AAA Stamp and Coin on Fort Street.
Some mintage years are worth up to $200 — and there’s also value in the sheer bulk.
Under orders from the federal government, the Royal Canadian Mint will stop distributing pennies on Feb. 4, but they’ll still be legal tender. As the penny disappears, businesses will be encouraged to round cash transactions to the nearest five-cent increment — $1.02 becomes $1, $1.03 becomes $1.05.
Pennies are being phased out, in part, because they cost more to make than their face value, and Canadians are inclined to horde rather than spend them.
The mint estimates more than 35 billion pennies have been struck from metal plates since 1908.
Some coin shops buy pennies by weight, offering below-market value for copper, similar to a currency exchange, said Tarantino. But the pennies have to be 1996 vintage and earlier when there was more copper than zinc, tin and other metals in the penny.
It is illegal for just anyone to melt down coins. Under the Currency Act, only those licensed by the finance minister are permitted to do so.
The fine is $250 and/or a maximum of a year in jail.
If you’re lucky enough to find a 1925 one-cent piece, you’ve hit the jackpot.
It could be worth between $100 and $200, depending on the condition.
Any penny from the 1920s and earlier could be worth several hundred times its face value. The 1925 cent featuring King George V and two maple leaves is especially valuable, said Tarantino, because it was a “low-mintage year.”
“If they made more than a billion pennies last year, in 1925 they made maybe a million. Canada had a surplus in the previous years, so fewer were made that year,” Tarantino said.
Both AAA Stamp and Coin and Van Isle Coin & Stamp on Fort Street discourage people from bringing in their buckets of pennies, saying copper hoarders should sort through stashes themselves for rare finds.
Otherwise, roll them up and take them to the bank or credit union. Some have coin-sorting machines for public use, but may charge a fee.
Ron Fritz, owner of Van Isle Coin & Stamp, said he isn’t buying old pennies unless they’re good specimens from the early 1900s. He’s selling some coppers from 1922, 1923 and 1925 for $30 to $40 each.
“I had a guy come in a while ago with five ice-cream buckets and I gave him a half a cent each,” said Fritz.
“A British penny wrecked my [rolling] machine. I had an employee at the time and she spent three days rolling. I don’t think I made any money.”
Tarantino and Fritz suggest people go online or buy coin catalogues to find out what their pennies might be worth.
“I don’t mind people coming down and showing me what they got,” said Tarantino. “I know there’s a lot of rolling going on out there … and if they’ve got something interesting, I’d like to see it.”
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