The humble penny got a righteous send-off Friday morning in Winnipeg.
A clutch of Conservative politicians sounded its death knell and supervised the wake. Journalists and their cameras immortalized the moment. Royal Canadian Mint employees stood in a semicircle at the back of the floor, craning their necks for a good look. Average Winnipeggers filled the second floor, watching through the windows as history was made.
There was applause when Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, aided by setup operator Franßois Gendron, struck the last penny. The minister handled the keepsake carefully, wearing white gloves he joked made him look like a headwaiter. No one thought to ask how many taxpayer pennies it took to get Flaherty, the Ottawa-based CEO of the mint, and his minions to town.
After a flurry of photos, that now-famous cent was put in a nondescript maroon box. It will be spirited out of Winnipeg, headed for Ottawa's Currency Museum. The last million pennies minted will be available for sale to the public.
This was a high-spirited marking of a currency that has fallen out of favour. Toss a dozen pennies in a public place and no one will stoop to pick them up, You can't buy anything with just one, or 12 or 20. Clerks sometimes ask if you even want them, as though they're such a waste of time they're not worth the bother.
How things change. One local currency dealer said Friday afternoon speculators have been coming in to buy rolls of pennies to resell on the Internet.
Flaherty admitted Friday he used to go to the corner store and buy bubble gum with his pennies. He caught hell from his mother once when she saw him toss a penny in the garbage.
More than one generation remembers when real stuff such as Cokes could be paid for with coppers. The passing of the penny has a Last Spike feeling to it, the marking of a significant end of an era.
At least this act of extinction was noted. Sometimes you can turn around and wonder when you last saw a phone booth or an ashtray, a hat department or a notions section. I don't remember any fuss when the final dollar or two-dollar bills were printed, just opening my wallet and realizing I hadn't seen one in a long time.
We didn't notice Walkmans and VCRs and wall phones and rotary-dial phones were vanishing until they were gone. Cassette tapes, 8-tracks, proper grammar and spelling, manners, hooded hair dryers, common decency and elevator operators. Gone and uncelebrated.
(These are the games the middle-aged are loath to play because they secure our position on the far other side of youth. Reminisce too loudly and someone calls you "dear" and asks what you did in the war.)
I bought a typewriter on eBay because I didn't keep my last one. Never thought about it being the last one until it was gone. I purchased it for nostalgic reasons and to convince my future grandchildren this is how people used to write newspaper stories and university essays and letters. They won't believe it, any more than they'll believe a Popsicle was six cents and grandma didn't ride to school in a stagecoach.
Pennies won't disappear for years. They're still legal tender. Part of the reason they were a pain for the mint is people horde them. All those pickle jars and bags and piggy banks will be emptied now.
Flaherty and MP Shelly Glover suggested Canadians donate their pennies to charity. That's a great idea and one many of us have promoted for years. It was odd, though, that Glover singled out the national group Habitat For Humanity as a charity to support. It's a wonderful organization (one Glover has supported for years) but surely a local MP could have given a shout-out to Winnipeg Harvest, which has also launched a fundraising pennies campaign. This paper has one, too.
But that's a quibble. We came to celebrate the penny and to bury it. I guess it's a nickle for your thoughts from now on.