Brother, Can You Spare A Dime?

A handout or a hand up?

brother can you spare a dime

A popular song  from 1930 was ‘Brother, can you spare a dime?’ sung by Bing Crosby.  During the Great Depression, many Americans were down on their luck and struggling to make ends meet. (The ‘Fellow American down  on his luck’ was later personified by Humphrey Bogart in the film The Treasure of the Sierra Madre 1948, later spoofed in the 1950 Bugs Bunny cartoon short  8-Ball Bunny.)  A dime doesn’t seem like a lot of money, but when you get enough of them they do add up. It was probably  a combination of this song on the radio, and the movie newsreel serial THE MARCH OF TIME that inspired Eddie Cantor to coin the phrase ‘The March Of Dimes’ to help raise donations for Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1938, for his National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis, to combat polio. The catch phrase eventually replaced the clunky name of the foundation, which has been know as The March Of Dimes ever since.  The poorly run charity still exists today despite the near extinction of polio, having changed its mission to fighting birth defects.   More than 80% of funds collected go towards overhead,  and the CEO of the charity  is paid over $500,000 annually. What started out as a good intention morphed into a bureaucratic nightmare that doesn’t seem to help anyone except the staff.

The American Dream vs. the Welfare State.

Americans are guaranteed the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Nowhere in the US Constitution is it listed as being the job of the government to provide any form of  social welfare assistance, cradle to grave healthcare, cheap housing, free phones, or free food.  

Following the stock market crash of 1929 and the resulting Great Depression, certain well-intentioned government officials began creating the modern welfare state that exists in our country today. The Social Security Act was signed into law by President Roosevelt on August 14, 1935. The WPA, Works Progress Administration, put unemployed and unskilled Americans to work in return for temporary financial assistance from 1939 to 1943. For four years during the Depression, the first Food Stamp Program fed 20 million people at one time or another in nearly half of the total counties in the nation.  Food stamps were eliminated in 1943, but in 1961 they were revived when President Kennedy signed his first executive order bringing back the program. Food stamps would also eventually be re-branded as SNAP, a Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, with benefits being distributed electronically on a EBT card to reduce ‘social stigma’.     

Government entitlement programs account for more than half of the national budget.  Whenever we reduce taxes, we also have to make  corresponding cuts to the budget, and associated entitlement programs.  The problem is there is a large portion of the population that has become entirely dependent upon the existence of those same entitlement programs which must be eliminated.  Ever since President Franklin Delano Roosevelt offered Americans his New Deal, the cornerstone of the Democrat political party platform has been to eliminate poverty through widespread, government social welfare programs. As a result of the created dependency generated from these same welfare programs, poverty has actually increased while the Federal budget deficit has skyrocketed. We have also created generational welfare dependency with children living in the same housing projects on public assistance as their parents and grandparents.  It is impossible to eliminate poverty, and believing that poverty can be eliminated amounts to calling Jesus Christ a liar.

“The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have Me.”– Jesus Christ,  The Bible written in John 12:8,  Mark 14:7, and also Matthew 26:11

Charity begins at home.

​“With great power there must also come — great responsibility!” —Stan Lee

Besides being God, Jesus Christ was a rabbi, or teacher. By speaking that the poor will always be among us, He brings to mind other scripture verse.      

“If among you, one of your brothers should become poor, in any of your towns within your land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother, but you shall open your hand to him and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be…For the poor you will always have with you in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.’” (Deut 15:7-11)

Before the government social welfare reforms of the twentieth century were instituted, taking care of the poor was largely a function of the Christian Church. Churches had ‘poor boxes’ with the donations collected destined directly for the poor.  Even today, churches provide free meals, food pantries, and other donations for the poor. As Christians living in the most prosperous country in history of the world, it is OUR responsibility to pass on our blessings as we have been blessed. With all the opportunity and freedom abundant in the United States, there really is no reason to be poor unless we choose to be. According to motivational expert Brian Tracy, “The sad fact is that people are poor because they have not yet decided to be rich. People are overweight and unfit because they have not yet decided to be thin and fit. People are inefficient time wasters because they haven’t yet decided to be highly productive in everything they do.”

I grew up poor, both my father and step-father died when I was a young boy. My mother never worked to better herself and always relied upon social welfare programs.  As a result, I grew up in a roach-infested apartment in NYC, eating Government cheese, getting food with food stamps, and eating free meals at school. My mother died in the same poverty she chose to embrace, but I made a vow long ago to never be poor when I was an adult.  Success is always present, but never given, you have to work for it if you really want it. Doing so places you in a position to help the less fortunate, offering a hand up instead of a handout.  There are many worthy charities for every sketchy one that claims to help the poor, and if you do your research, by separating the wheat from the chaff your donations will do the most good.  A good rule of thumb is to focus locally and give what you are able to give freely and gladly. You should take care of your family, friends, and other people who live close to you before helping people who are living further away or in another country.  If every Christian in the USA did their fair share, there would be no need for government welfare programs. As always, I wish you success and happiness.

At Face Value!

Even a penny is a treasure!

treasure

One of my earliest memories of my father involved him giving me a small metal treasure chest filled with old coins. In actuality, this was a just a metal coin bank, but unlike the usually piggy bank shape, this one was shaped like a stereotypical pirate chest one might see in an old movie, or in an illustration from a book on pirates. Although I was quite young at the time, I do remember three things about the incident.

The first thing was that my father originally told me a tall tale about finding the treasure chest buried in the yard by pirates. Not quite the right thing to say to a young impressionable boy with a vivid imagination. My first impulse was to grab a shovel and start trying to dig up the yard in search of more buried pirate booty. Upon realizing his mistake, retrieving the shovel and re-filling the holes in the back yard, my father confessed to making up the whimsical pirate story in jest to have a bit of fun at my expense. A kid will believe anything, they’re too young to know any better.

After a long explanation that pirates like Long John Silver and Blackbeard were not part of the modern world,  the second thing I remember was being delighted that the coins all looked different from contemporary money. I was old enough to know the difference between pennies, nickels, dimes, dimes, quarters, half-dollar, and dollar coins. A lot of the coins were from the 1800’s. This was my father’s coin collection, and he wanted me to have it to encourage an interest in both saving and collecting money. This is something which has stuck with me my whole life. A year or so later, my father died suddenly as a result of kidney failure.

The third thing I remember about the treasure chest of coins was that sometime after the death of first my father, and then my step father, my mother sold the coins to a dealer without my knowledge. It’s not like I looked at them every day, and we had to move quite a bit after she sold the house. Things ‘out of sight’ were always said to be ‘packed away in storage’ until I forgot about them. My mother only understood two things about money, she could spend it, and she never had as much as she’d like.

Bringing home the bacon.   

The origin of the piggy bank is disputed by different sources. Some say  that early coin jars in the middle ages were made of a type of clay called pygg. This word sounded like pig, and an English potter mistakenly created a pig-shaped bank when someone asked for a pygg money jar. There is little evidence to support this widely believed myth.  What is known is that sometime about 1900, the first modern Piggy Banks were sold in the USA, and they cost 25¢. Billed as a new novelty, these early clay banks didn’t have the removable stopper on the bottom of the bank. If you wanted to remove the coins, you had to smash the bank, or kill the pig, so to speak. Even to this day, whenever I empty my coin jar and take a bunch of wrapped coins to the bank, I say to the back teller that I killed the piggy bank.

I never quite understood the charm of a piggy bank, or of giving them to children to teach about saving. A coin jar works much better. It’s my humble opinion that parents who encouraged children to save money in piggy banks did so because young children have a nasty habit of putting everything they can grab into their mouth.  By making a game of putting the penny in the piggy bank, it helped keep the coins out of the mouths of babes. Of course, I may be mistaken, but that’s the nature of opinions.

The next time I became excited about coins and money was 1976, the USA bicentennial.  There was a lot of hoopla concerning our great nation reaching its second century. Tall ships sailed into NYC, there were extra fireworks around the 4th of July, a lot of patriotic symbols on all kinds of novelties could be had. And the money changed.  The  quarters, half-dollars, and dollar coins all had a special bicentennial obverse and a double date. Likewise, after a ten year absence, $2 bills were reintroduced with a bicentennial themed back depicting the signing of the Declaration of Independence. I had never seen a $2 bill. My mother was very excited. That was when I suddenly remembered about the long-unseen treasure chest of coins, which I then asked for, only to be told that that was ‘lost in the move’. As a consolation, I was given several specimens of all the new bicentennial money, including several $2 bills. I’ve had a love of $2 bills ever since.  I even have some Canadian $2 bills, both the obsolete paper money and the two loonie or toonie coin. Canada stopped printing $1 and $2 paper money back in 1986. Canadian dollar coins have a loon (a common Canadian waterfowl) on the obverse. They were nicknamed loonies. Some Canadians even started referring to piggy banks as loonie bins. In the late 1980’s Playtoy Industries of Toronto Canada manufactured a Giant Loonie Bank. Sadly, according to a recent news article, Canada says that currency which is no longer being printed will cease to be legal tender in the near future, and will become worthless paper.

looniebin2

This takes us back to collecting coins and money in general. For the most part, money is the one collectible item that always retains its face value.  The USA considers all US currency to be legal tender. If you take a 1937 ‘Mercury Dime’ to your bank, you can deposit it into your account as 10¢. Once a bank gets a hold of old money, it takes it out of circulation never to be seen again. If you took it to a coin collector instead, you’d get more than face value. The silver content alone is worth more than a dime.  To collectors, the condition of the money and its rarity give added value beyond that of the face value. I save all kinds of old money. Some of it is for sentimental reasons, like my $2 bills. Others like my Indian Head pennies are rare. Some coins I have paid slightly above face value to get an entire set in ‘uncirculated’ condition. To collectors, uncirculated coins and collector proof sets command high value. The US Mint sells these collector proof sets for way above face value. The 2018 proof set has ten coins all bearing the ‘S’ mint mark from San Francisco with a frosted, sculptured foreground set against a mirror-like field. You get the five America the Beautiful Quarters, the Native American $1 coin, Kennedy Half-dollar, Roosevelt dime, Jefferson nickel, and Lincoln penny.  Face value, it adds up to $2.91. The US Mint sells it for $27.95 +S/h.   To me, it’s not worth the extra $25.04 for super-shiny, uncirculated coins. Some people buy these  proof sets every year for their children and grandchildren.  I’m not saying that they won’t increase in value among collectors, just that they only are worth face value if you spend them.  I can’t tell you the exact number of times some teenager came in to the convenience store I worked at back in the day with a horde of old coins. In my mind, I just knew that someone had raided grandpa’s coin collection, but the money was legal tender, and I was simply speculating on how it was obtained.  I would buy out the rare monies once they left, replacing the antiquities with contemporary counterparts from my wallet.   

I’m probably never going to cash in my coin and paper money collection, but it is a comfort to know that if something terrible were to happen, I could at least spend it for face value even if I couldn’t locate another interested collector willing to obtain the collection for a premium.     

“Loose Change” AKA “Penny Song”

Lyrics by Andrew Peterson

I’d give you all of me to know what you were thinking

And if I had one wish I’d wish I wasn’t sinking here

Drowning in this well, oh can’t you tell?

I can’t pick myself up off the ground,

Well I’ve been face down and pushed aside.

Well you know I’d rather just turn tail and run

than lie here in the sun and watch you pass me by

Cause I ain’t worth a dime.

(yeah yeah, oh yeah) Yeah, yeah (yeah yeah)

But If only I could stand up straight, I wouldn’t have to lie and wait,

I could up and roll away, never be ignored

I’ve got a feeling that I’m something more

than just a piece of copper ore, turning green and looking for

The reason I was born.

I’ve been around since 1964, in banks and bottom drawers

And on railroad ties. I’ve been passed around and cast aside

Skipped and flipped and flattened wide, Spun around

And thrown away and left alone to lie

But If only I could stand up straight, I wouldn’t have to lie and wait,

I could up and roll away, never be ignored

I’ve got a feeling that I’m something more

than just a piece of copper ore, turning green and looking for

The reason I was born.

(yeah yeah, oh yeah) Yeah, yeah (yeah yeah) na na na na na

But I heard about a penny found, lying underneath the couch

By a woman who was kneeling down, looking for some change.

Then the woman danced around and called her friends all over town

Told them what was lost is found, it’s another penny saved.

And so I find that all this time beneath the surface I could shine

Like all the gold a king and queen could measure

You see even a penny is a treasure

(yeah yeah, oh yeah) Yeah, yeah (yeah yeah) na na na na na

The 1987 movie Throw Mama From The Train stars Danny DeVito  and Billy Chrystal as Owen and Larry. Middle-aged Owen lives at home with his overbearing mother. He seems like he might be a little slow.  Larry is his writing teacher at the adult continuing education program he attends. There’s a scene that is genuinely emotionally touching  when Owen wants to show Larry his coin collection. Larry doesn’t want to see the coins, but Owen makes him feel bad when he says he’s never shown them to anyone before.  Owen slowly pulls out coins saying “This one is a nickel. And this is one is also a nickel. And here’s a quarter, and another quarter, and a penny.” Larry is annoyed at this, as the coins are all seemingly contemporary currency, and not worth anything more than face value. Owen then proceeds to explain how each coin is special to him because they were the change his Dad gave him during various father-son trips.  It’s a collection of coins from change his dad gave him, and that’s where their value lies.

Although the original coin collection my father gave to me is long gone, the special memory of the gift remains. Like any successful person who faces a setback, I started over, and in time I slowly began to amass a new collection of coins.  As my financial situation improved, I started adding things like old paper money, silver certificates, foreign coins, uncirculated coins, you name it. At face value, my collection is worth thousands. To a collector, it’s worth even more. As far as I’m concerned, it’s priceless, and not for sale. Someday, I too hope to pass my collection to my son, when I finally have a  son. Hopefully he will be able to keep it longer than I did my father’s. In either case, you can’t take it with you when you go, and a good man provides for his children, and his children’s children. Money is nice to have, but the memories we make with our loved ones are worth more than all the gold in Fort Knox. As always, I wish you success and happiness!   

A Penny For Your Thoughts?

Making sense of cents.

cents

If you’ve ever heard the saying “Penny for your thoughts”, and thought a penny was such a paltry sum, consider that when the saying was first coined in the 1500’s, a penny was a pretty fair amount.  

I do a lot of walking during my day job. About five to seven miles. Not a day goes by that I don’t find at least one penny discarded in the street. Although there are some who superstitiously believe that a penny face down is  bad luck, I disagree. A penny found is a penny earned and the only luck a person has is the luck they make for themselves. I also use these found pennies as a reminder to say a quick prayer thanking God for all I have. 

Way back in the 1970’s when I was a young boy, there was still a few years when you could go to the corner Spanish Grocery store and buy penny candies. I remember one of the last times I lived in that neighborhood when I walked into store with a dollar and asked for one hundred Big Bols, which Patricia dutifully counted out of the candy jar, and then handed over in a paper bag. I felt like I was the richest boy in Queens NY.  Big Bol was a cheap wrapped penny candy that was sort of a gum drop with a hard candy shell. Honestly I can’t even remember what they tasted like it was so long ago, but if pressed I’d say guava. Sadly, those days are long gone.

bigbol

A penny doesn’t buy much these days.  You can still stumble upon an online deal for a one cent item with free shipping, but most places simply dispense with the penny all together, or change shipping. Last week, I found a website that offered TOTALLY FREE (including shipping) 300 printed business cards. The back of the card advertises the company and reads FREE by 4OVER4.COM This is a loss leader and an advertisement at the same time, because they can write off the promotional item as a business expense and get free advertising, all while creating good customer relations with potential new clients . Quite ingenious.

Despite the fact that pennies don’t go as far as they used to and are often discarded, Americans still love our pennies and resist efforts to eliminate the coin. Our neighbors to the North abolished their penny in 2012. The Canadian penny coin was produced from 1858 until May 2012. Distribution by the Royal Canadian Mint ceased as of February 4th 2013. From 1982 until 1996, the shape of the penny was 12-sided rather than round. In 1997, the penny’s composition changed to 98.4 per cent zinc, with the rest copper plating. Since 2000, its composition has been 94 per cent steel.  Whenever I stumble upon a Canadian penny, it gets saved now in my ‘Canadian Penny Jar’.  I also save US Wheat cents and earlier, and I do have a few British large cents.

Production of the US penny coin has been continuous since 1793. Prior to 1856 pennies were produced in the large cent coin. There are not many of these in existence today because  many of these early coins were melted down as the copper was more valuable than the coin.  The US penny was made of mostly copper prior to 1982 when the mint switched production to the cheaper 97.5% zinc plated with copper coins still in use today. The US penny has been the same size since 1856 as it is today, but there have been some ‘cosmetic’ changes.

The two precursors of the modern Lincoln penny were the Flying Eagle (1856-1858) and the Indian Head (1859-1909) I once found an Indian Head Penny discarded in the ‘Need a Penny?’ tray at a Rutter’s convenience store in York PA when I stopped for gas. I couldn’t believe my good fortune at discovering the more-than-a-hundred-year-old coin sitting in the dish right on top, unnoticed by everyone except me!

indian

Abraham Lincoln (February 12, 1809 – April 15, 1865) was the 16th President of the United States. Considered the Last Casualty of the American Civil War, Lincoln was the first Republican president. He commanded the Union Army in its victory over the South in the bloodiest war the US ever fought in. The victory ended slavery in the USA, preserved the Union, and Lincoln is recognized as the greatest president of the nineteenth century.

In 1909 to commemorate the centennial of Abraham Lincoln’s birth, the US Mint replaced the  five decade old Indian Head cent with the Lincoln Wheat penny designed by Victor D. Brenner. A few early coins were produced with the designer’s initials VDB on the face of the coin. The front of the coin has the current profile of Lincoln, the obverse had two stalks of wheat, and read ONE CENT.   During WWII when copper was needed for the war effort, the 1943 steel cent was produced. Likewise I once found one of these wartime Steel cents discarded in the  ‘Need a Penny?’ Dish at a 7-11 convenience store in Reading PA.  The clueless clerk was rambling on about a person being dishonest and painting a penny silver in order to ‘pass it off as a dime’.  I nodded sympathetically while replaced the offending penny with a modern one, then left the shop with a huge smile on my face.

In 1959, on the sesquicentennial of Lincoln’s birth, the Wheat on the obverse was replaced with the Lincoln Memorial for the next fifty years.

wheat

To commemorate the bicentennial of Lincoln’s birth in 2009, the mint issued pennies with four different designs on the obverse depicting scenes from the life of  Abraham Lincoln.

2009

Since 2010, the reverse side of the penny has sported the Union Shield.

shield

Yes, the US penny is a very common coin, but Abraham Lincoln was a very uncommon man. It’s quite fitting that even the poorest person in our great country can easily posses a coin bearing the likeness of this great man. As always, I wish you success and happiness!