Everything you should know about the death of the penny (and then some)

Today’s the big day when the Royal Canadian Mint cuts off the penny supply. Canadian Business already wrote the penny’s obit last spring, after the last federal budget confirmed that the smallest coin would be going to the great wishing well in the sky. Though news stories about the phase-out are a dime a dozen, a consumer survey done for Home Depot recently made the dubious claim that 88% of Canadians didn’t know the penny was being phased out today. For those of you who have been paying attention, however, plenty of people are marking the end of the era.

Penny history

Detail from a Royal Canadian Mint infographic on the history of the penny

While distribution of the penny stops today, the last Canadian 1¢ coin was actually struck last year, on May 4, 2012 — just one of the factoids you can learn from this colourful infographic, above, which the Mint produced outlining the history of the penny.


The Canada Revenue Agency guide to rounding

The Mint also provides this infographic explaining, in excessive detail, how to round up or down — a skill that is currently considered a Grade 3-level math problem in most Canadian school systems. The Globe and Mail adapted the Mint’s diagram into an even more mystifying graphic this morning. But not all stores are going with the government’s suggestion, above, for rounding; the Retail Council of Canada surveyed its members and found that while around 56% will use the CRA recommendation, about 19% will only round down to the nearest 5¢ price. A further 19% “don’t know,” which suggests that perhaps there truly is a need for all these infographics explaining one of life’s most basic arithmetical skills.

Technically, the penny remains legal tender, but the nation’s folk artists appear to be dead set on debasing its memory by integrating pennies into chintzy art projects, tacky jewelry and even, as the Toronto Star discovered to our collective ignominy, sink backsplashes.

But every melancholy sunset is just a prelude to the break of a new day, and for the Royal Canadian Mint, that translates into making big bucks by making small change for other countries. The Globe reports today on the Mint’s efforts to sell itself as an outsourced producer of coins, something it already does for countries such as Botswana, Ethiopia and New Zealand, and that already accounts for 12% of the Mint’s revenue. Ending production of the penny gave the Mint 20% more production capacity, and it’s actually expanding its Winnipeg plating facility to do more.

That’s the slippery slope we’re on, it seems, with the Mint looking to kill off home-grown coins so it can concentrate on churning out more Ethiopian santims and Panamanian centésimos. And some politicians are right on board, with the NDP’s Pat Martin introducing a private member’s bill this week to eliminate the nickel as well — and maybe even the quarter. We used to cling to the aphorism that “change is the only constant,” but in these dark days, it seems like even that’s not certain any more.