By Karen Knapstein
You don’t need to have an interest in coin collecting to get started in coin collecting. If you are a traveler, a fun-seeker, a keeper of mementos from family outings or historical events, creating and collecting elongated pennies may be a good fit for you. Plug in your penny and a couple of quarters, crank the wheel to squash the penny and imprint a design, and you’ve got yourself a memento that will last forever.
Eyes on Elongated Coins
Elongated coins (also known as elongated cents, stretchies, squashed cents, or rolled cents, among other names) are made by forcing a coin, token, or metal blank between two steel rollers. The design engraved on one roller (die) is then transferred to the coin, turning what was just moments before legal tender into a memento valued to the maker at more than a penny.
Speaking of legal, many people think it is illegal to alter U.S. coins by smashing them. However, it turns out it’s perfectly legal to roll pennies. U.S. Code Title 18, Chapter 17, Section 331 prohibits, among other things, fraudulent alteration and mutilation of coins. This statute does not, however, prohibit the mutilation of coins if done without fraudulent intent or if the mutilated coins are not used fraudulently. Therefore, in the United States, as long as a coin isn’t being altered with the intent to counterfeit/commit fraud, then it’s ok. The interpretation of the U.S. code is that “fraudulent alteration” is what is prohibited – not alteration to create a novelty.
Roots in the Chicago World’s Fair
These coin curios have been around for more than a century; the first elongated coins in the United States were made in Chicago during the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition (World’s Fair). The enterprising individual(s) who brought an existing rolling machine to the Fair to press designs on existing coins created a whole new type of collectible, falling into the exonumia category of numismatics, which includes all things coin-related.
Ever since that Chicago World’s Fair, crowds of entrepreneurs and collectors have taken a shine to pressing coins. Elongateds fall into three general production classes: Oldies, Modern, and Contemporary. From the period 1893-1965 come the “oldies,” which were issued primarily at national and world expositions (world fairs and other large exhibitions); circa 1965-circa 1985 coins are considered “modern elongateds,” which were created primarily by private rollers; and contemporary elongateds, circa 1985-present, made largely by commercial penny presses, such as those found in many zoos, parks, and other amusement sites.
Cent Pressing Business
Cindy’s Cents has specialized in custom elongated coins and penny machines since 2006. The business has about 30 public machines placed in West Virginia, Virginia, and a few machines in Maryland. [Their website, www.elongatedpenny.net, lists the specific locations and offers elongated coins from those machines for 75 cents apiece.] The company is headed by Cindy Calhoun [TEC #3467] of Shepherdstown, West Virginia. She is also a squashed penny enthusiast and has thousands of elongated coins in her collection.
Calhoun says her collection started with elongateds from places she visited when she was growing up. “I didn’t consider myself a collector back then, I was just getting souvenirs,” she explains.
“I became more involved with the hobby as an adult; then trip routes were planned around where the penny machines were located,” Calhoun continues. “Even when we traveled to foreign countries, time had to be built in for me to find penny machines as I learned they are all over the world!”
Modern Approach to Retro Interest
Currently serving as president of The Elongated Collectors, Calhoun is also a private roller – someone who designs and rolls elongated coins for clients. “Attended machines (meaning it isn’t in a cabinet and the machine sits on top of a post or workbench) are what most private rollers use,” she says. “The ones on posts are portable and are often brought to coin shows or other events.
“It is difficult for clubs to find good post machines, though. In the next year or two, I anticipate having a handful of newly manufactured post style machines available for purchase to help clubs acquire a post style machine,” Calhoun predicts.
The Elongated Collector (www.tecnews.org) is a non-profit organization that was founded in 1966. The group’s official mission is to “educate, encourage and promote the study, acquisition and exhibition of elongated coins;” assisting new collectors and youth rank high on their priority list.
Finding Fellow Fans of Pressed Cents
Benefits of joining the group include, but are not limited to, being a part of an active collecting community that makes it easier to buy, sell and trade elongated coins; receiving informative quarterly newsletters filled with articles written by TEC members – plus at least two free elongated coins with each issue; and access to a wealth of information about elongated coin history and realistic and consistent values of elongates. Calhoun enthuses, “To me the biggest benefit of TEC is the people you meet. I now have friends all over the country and the world who share a similar love for little copper pieces of joy!”
Oded Paz [TEC #3047; www.odedpaz.com] has also been a member of the TEC for about 15 years; he has served the group in several capacities over the years, including vice president and president. Paz, who lives in Arco, Idaho, found his enthusiasm for elongateds in a round-about way through his daughter. He explains when he and his family were living in California, he purchased a lot of elongated coins at his local coin club to indulge his daughter. “She later lost interest, so she gave the elongateds to me,” he recalls. “When we went to Universal Studios Hollywood a few months later, I found these machines ‘everywhere,’ and I caught the ‘Squishing Bug.’”
Evolution from Collector to Roller
From squishing at commercial machines, Paz proceeded to designing elongated coins and is now also a private roller. At this writing, he has designed 172 elongated coins (170 of which have been rolled) and is always looking forward to creating more. Elongated coins are a memorable medium for commemorating a special event or promoting a business because they are permanent. “The great advantage of making a business card, party/wedding favors and any other design on an elongated coin is the fact that, unlike paper, plastic, or wood-made items, they are almost NEVER thrown away,” Paz explains. “People don’t throw away metallic items, especially if they know it is, or used to be, a coin.”
Don Adams Specialties of Chauvin, Louisiana, is another noteworthy maker. Adams has created and rolled more than 250 different elongated coins since January 1971. Adams offers an amazing selection of elongateds, including many that commemorate classic television programing such as “Ozzie and Harriet,” “The Andy Griffith Show,” “The Munsters,” “The Beverly Hillbillies,” and many more. [Adams operates an eBay store under user ID Success4You.]
Modern and contemporary elongateds make up the lion’s share of the pressed coin population – one cannot even guess how many contemporary elongateds are pressed each day – but there are still plenty of oldies to pursue. Oldies tend to cost the most to acquire.
Calhoun explains, “The first known elongateds were at the Columbian Exposition in 1893. Surprisingly, these are available today for a reasonable amount ($25-$40). Many key events in the U.S. appear within these unique items.. The early elongateds were prominent at the World’s Fairs, and many elongated collectors specialize in the coins from those events.”
Paz “guesstimates” there are more than 250,000 different elongated coins, “and I wouldn’t be surprised if there are more.” Which makes it prudent for collectors to have some sort of focus in their collecting efforts.
Calhoun, whose collection also counts in the thousands, advises beginning collectors to label and file the coins as you get them.
She explains, “Unfortunately, I didn’t start with a good system for documenting and filing my little copper treasures. Over time, I ended up with various boxes, envelopes, bins and containers of elongateds. I’m slowly trying to organize them, but it would have been so much easier if I had done it right from the start.”
Design and State of Metal Weigh Into Value
According to the TEC, “Prices of elongated coins vary depending on the number rolled, age, denomination, popularity of topic or event, even the condition of the coin.” Help with determining rarity comes from the book “Yesterday’s Elongateds,” which is a must-have resource for collectors of older elongated coins. It includes listings of oldies along with a rarity scale. As far as condition goes, in addition to considering the state of the metal itself, elongated coins on which the design is completely visible are more desirable than those with the design cut off (rolled short) or those with long “tails.”
Calhoun shares helpful insights when considering value: “The older elongateds that were made in limited numbers sell higher than those from public machines. The most expensive elongated is the Pike; it’s pictured on the front of ‘Yesterday’s Elongateds’ and last sold at auction for more than $4,000. However, most current elongateds can be purchased for less than a dollar, and the older elongateds vary depending on the host coin (one rolled on a gold coin will obviously be more), when it was made, and the number of that coin that are known to exist.”
Overall, the value aspect of elongated coins bodes well for budget-conscious collectors. Calhoun explains, “Elongateds create an emotional experience. Which elongated is most valuable will vary from person to person.”
Availablility and Opportunity
Paz agrees. “Value is usually in the eye of the beholder. If you need that specific elongated to fill in a gap/hole in your collection, it may be worth more to you than others. Some elongateds have a sentimental/personal value, such as the ones I first rolled when I caught the bug. But, taking all of that away, the older ones are usually more valuable, but not always.”
One can find elongated cents most anywhere. On any given day, you might find 10,000 available on eBay and thousands more in online shops. KC Parkinson, co-owner of the Etsy online shop Hillhome Treasures [www.etsy.com/shop/HillhomeTreasures], recently acquired a large collection of elongated cents from a relative who was an eclectic collector. He’s selling some of the coins, but he’s enjoying the discoveries along the way.
“I enjoy the elongated pennies for their art and history,” he says. “Our Nation’s coinage was so beautiful and creative; today, there is little left to say how great this country is. These pennies are an expression of the engraver’s art. I love the variety and expression.
“A big reason why these are special is they bring smiles to you. You watch someone make one or recalling a memory, and you see a smile,” Parkinson adds.
Exchange Options Exist
Another way to get social and grow a collection with interesting elongated coins from all over the world is through Penny Pals. Penny Presses (pennypresses.net) runs this simple “Secret Santa”-type program. Participants must first log on to pennypresses.net and register for a free account.
Once an account is set up, collectors can enroll in the Penny Pals program. “Penny Pals are picked at the start of each month. They are picked at random, and you get a new one each month, letting you collect pennies from different places,” explains Jaclynn England, co-owner of Penny Presses.
“We will send out an email notification letting you know your pal was picked, then you can log on the website, check the pals area and see who you got. When you find out who your new pal is, simply send them a penny by the 15th of the month and post a photo of the envelope as proof,” she continues.
Navigating the Hobby
“Don’t worry: Only the admins can see the proof photo you submit, and it also sends an email to your pal letting them know their penny is on the way,” assures England. “You can send one penny or more; we do have a few people who send sets of pennies.”
To further assist elongated coin hobbyists, Penny Presses has developed an Android app (available in the Google Play store). “With the app and our mapping system, you can easily locate new souvenir coin machines to help you collect,” England says.
“A few of our features on the app allow you to mark visited machines, report broken ones so other collectors know that machine is down, upload pictures, and list new machines. Our database is fan-driven by their updates,” she continues. “We currently have 3,390 machines listed and ready for the pressing!”
While there are quite possibly hundreds of thousands of elongated cents to pursue, building a collection doesn’t have to be on a grand scale. Stretched penny fans can – literally – create a collection of any size that reflects their own personal interests and experiences.
In fact, Calhoun recommends focusing your collection. “You can’t collect them all… Some people collect by location (ie: all related to a particular city or state). Others have collections by theme (zoos, sports, events, Disney, Christmas, etc.), or by the engraver or roller,” she says. (Modern and contemporary designer initials often appearin the design, usually in the border or at the edge of the design.)
Paz enthusiastically swings the metaphoric door wide open: “You should collect whatever you wish.
Cultivate a Collection You Love
There are no rules. Don’t let anyone tell you what or how to collect. You may wish to collect only those elongateds that you rolled by yourself. Or from places you have been to (even if you were not the one who rolled the coins), from your state, a few states of interest, by topics … All that I personally ask of you is to have lots of fun, fun, fun with the hobby and enjoy your time collecting these little metallic treasures!”
To make elongated cents personally more meaningful, some collectors will use pennies from specific years because of the numeric significance of the date. For example, a collector may use pennies from only their birth year or an anniversary … Imagine visiting your honeymoon location each year on an anniversary trip and rolling a penny from your wedding year and the current year. Creating a truly personal memento is as simple as that.
Calhoun also advocates collectors enjoy their collections: “Learn about them, take them out and look at them, touch them and show them to others. It’s not like a collection of rare coins; these are exposed to several pounds of pressure to make them elongated, so enjoy them! Exhibit what you collect so others can also appreciate and learn about them,” she says.
Understanding Composition of Cents
There are some aspects that most collectors agree on: Pre-1982 copper cents are best for rolling.
According to the U.S. Mint [www.usmint.gov], the metallic composition of pennies has changed several times since 1792 (the year a national mint was established). As it relates to elongated pennies, from 1864 to 1962, the cent’s composition is 95 percent copper and 5 percent tin and zinc (with the exception of 1943, when pennies are zinc-coated steel to conserve copper it’s use is in the war effort). In 1962, the tin content is out from the alloy, making penny composition 95 percent copper and 5 percent zinc.
In 1982, the Mint transitioned the cent composition to 97.5 percent zinc and 2.5 percent copper (copper-plated zinc). Cents made of both alloys are present in that year. Paz explains, “The post-1982 cents have a zinc core, which will show up after rolling the coin; and with time the zinc will turn black, and it greatly diminishes the look (and value) of the elongated coin.”
Most elongated cent collectors also agree it’s best to use clean or even polished pennies for rolling. You can polish a penny after it has been rolled, but it’s more difficult.
Appealing to families because elongated coins make for affordable souvenirs, there is no limit to the variety of pressed pennies that are available. While there is no guarantee newly rolled pennies will ever be of significant monetary value, there are several things that are a guarantee:
The pursuit of rolled cents is as affordable as collecting gets.
Collectors will never run out of elongated coins to chase.
Fans will always have great fun pressing memories.
A penny is just a penny, but when it’s elongated, it becomes a valued memento.
Sources: https://www.money.org/blog/the-start-of-a-new-collectible; Penny Collector, www.pennycollector.com; elongatedcoins.org; The Elongated Collectors, www.tecnews.org; ParkPennies.com; www.elongatedcoin.com