By Jhai Smith and Dianna Stampfler
Pressed pennies are definitely one of the most affordable souvenirs to “purchase” when visiting the Straits of Mackinac. Also known as “elongated coins,” they are quite a collector’s item for people traveling here from around the state and across the globe.
“An elongated coin (or pressed penny) is one that has been flattened or stretched, and embossed with a new design. Such coins are often used as commemorative or souvenir tokens, and it is common to find coin elongation machines in tourism hubs, such as museums, amusement parks, and natural or man-made landmarks,” according to Wikipedia. ”Private engravers make special-issue elongated coins to commemorate historical events, personal landmarks (such as marriage or birth of a child), or other events warranting celebration. They also design elongated coins for private clubs and organizations.”
The first elongated coins showed up at the World’s Columbian Exposition, held in Chicago in 1893 with four designs issued to commemorate the widely attended event (imagine having one of THOSE coins in your collection). Those earliest coins are what collectors classify as “oldies” that were produced for nationwide events like the Pan American Exposition in 1901 in Buffalo, New York and the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair.
Between 1965 and 1985 is what is known as the “Modern Elongateds” period, as private rollers came on the scene setting up machines at more tourist-focused regions throughout the United States to encourage collecting by the traveling public.
The “Contemporary Elongateds” era includes any coin presses and pennies from 1988 until present. It was during this time period that Disney stepped into the game, working on prototypes in 1986 but not releasing its first Mickey Mouse coin until 1987.
PennyPresses.net is a great resource which shows over 3,300 of the machine locations around the country. So, if you’re traveling to the Straits of Mackinac, you can look up Mackinaw City, Mackinac Island and St. Ignace to find out where machines are located to build up (or start) your collection.
How does it work?
It’s been calculated that it takes more than 2,500 pounds of force to properly press a penny. The noted website PennyCollector.com states “an elongated coin is made by a coin, token, medal or metal blank being forced between two steel rollers. An engraving is on one or both of the rollers and as the coin passes through the rollers it is squeezed or elongated under tremendous pressure from the original round shape to one of an oval and the engraved design impressed into the coin at the same time.”
Today, you will mostly find self-crank machines where you can watch the inner workings of your penny-turned-souvenir, tempting both children and adults to enjoy its simple magic. The cost is typically 51 cents (two quarters and of course, the penny).
Choosing the perfect penny!
According to the blog TouringPlans.com, “the best pennies to use are from prior to 1982, when the pennies were made 95% of copper. For those coins, when you smash them, you will get a uniform color throughout. After 1982, pennies are made from approximately 99% zinc with a copper coating, and so you will get silver-colored streaks in the penny as it is pressed.”
Of course, the condition of the penny also plays a factor in its clarity when pressed, as older coins may be discolored with age.
Is it legal?
According to U.S. Code Title 18, Chapter 17, Section 331, it is illegal to use altered coins as money but it is not actually illegal to deface the coin if not intended for fraudulent purposes. Meaning, if you’re pressing a penny as a souvenir, you aren’t breaking any laws!
However, pressing pennies in Canada IS illegal, as it is against the law to vandalize anything with the Queen’s face on it. In other countries where pressing said country’s currency is illegal, you may find a penny machine where you insert a U.S. PENNY and the local currency to pay for your perfect souvenir.
For more information (or for serious collectors), check out tecnews.org, the website of The Elongated Collector – a non-profit organization founded in 1966 with a mission to “educate, encourage and promote the study, acquisition and exhibition of elongated coins.”
Below is a list of where you can find pressing machines in the Straits of Mackinac area (from PennyPresses.net)…please note, this list is subject to change.
- Bargain Barn-n-Caramel Corn Shoppe
- Captain’s Treasures
- Fort Fudge Shop, Inc.
- Fort Gift Shop and Candy Kitchen
- Historic Mill Creek
- MaMa Mia’s Pizza
- Marshall’s Fudge Shop
- Mystery Town
- O’Briens Treasure Chest Gift Shop
- Star Line Mackinac Island Ferry Dock #1
- Windjammer Gift / Candy Corner
- Balsam Shop, The (The Loon Feather)
- Fort Mackinac State Park – Sutler’s Store
- Grand Hotel
- Highstones Discount Family Clothing
- St Star Line Ferry Dock
- Island Bookstore
- Mackinac Island State Parks Visitor’s Center/ Museum Store Huron Street (on the south side)
- Curio Fair
- Castle Rock
- Deer Ranch
- Indian Village
- Kewadin Casino
- Mystery Spot
- Souvenir Barn