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The Many Delights of Pressed Penny Collecting (and How to Make a Good One)

Thomas is an avid collector (hoarder?) of those elongated coins. He began the hobby when he was twelve, and hasn't looked back since!

Coins Aplenty

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I'm sure you've come across them in your travels, standing proudly at the entrance of touristy gift shops around the world.

Despite their characteristic turning-wheel, and tempting display of interlocking gears within that transparent Perspex shell, you've never really given this ingenious little machine much thought.

Variously known as 'penny presses', 'penny pinchers', and 'penny crushers', these contraptions are something of a mainstay for gift shop owners across the globe. Where the tourists gather, you can be reasonably sure a penny press won't be far away.

Their enduring appeal, in my opinion, lies in how they use only the grunt of the operator and a clever leverage system to transform the meagre monetary value of a penny piece into a unique souvenir (and collector's item, for the enthusiasts out there).

For some, the performance of this rather satisfying mechanical process becomes an event in itself. When you're turning the wheel, there's a moment when you can feel the resistance increase, as the penny slides into place under the die to be pressed into whatever design you chose.

The freshly (re)minted, elongated penny clinks out onto the collection tray, and the user anxiously rushes forward for the first inspection.

It is a moment of considerable excitement and trepidation. Was it a quality embossing? Are the stretch marks visible? Can you still see some of the penny's original design? Is it curved slightly or completely flat?

I'll admit that not everyone takes these elongated pieces of metal so seriously, and I say that's a real shame.

My First Time

I'll never forget my first time. We were on a family holiday to Austria. We had come across a mountain lake and we stopped there for the afternoon. I saw a machine near the edge of the water, and rushed to it.

I rotated the wheel to choose my favourite design, inserted my 1 euro coin and 2 cent piece, and turned the crank again. After a few seconds, the pressed penny clinked out and I took it up with glee. From that moment, I was hooked.

Each penny gives you a reference point for happy memories. It's less about the final product and more about the snapshot of time in which you made it.

It's been a while since my first experience, but some of that childish excitement always returns when come across a penny press machine.

Over the years, I've developed a number of tactics that, in my humble opinion, help to ensure that your pressed penny is the best it can be when it finally drops out onto the collection tray.

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Here are three of the industry's best loosely-held secrets that have helped me to compile a truly awesome collection of elongates.

1. Keep the Coppers!

I get it. You're standing in front of the machine, impatiently fumbling around your purse or wallet.

You frantically inspect every coin in your possession for that all-important £1 (or $1, or €1, or whatever) and the copper whose destiny it is to be formed into a cheap but tasteful memento.

The only thing is, you realise you don't have any coppers. Raising your head to the sky, you curse the moment the cashier gave you that single penny as change for the £1.99 sandwich you ate for lunch. You tossed it nonchalantly into the charity collection pot on the side of the cash register, and now you wish things had turned out differently!

I understand your disappointment, but let this be a lesson to you. Keep the coppers! You never know when you might need one.

2. Line It Up Nice and Proper

I could write an entire article about how to choose the final design of your coin (don't worry, I won't). It really is an art in itself. You should probably choose the one you like most!

Now that's out of the way, let's get into the technicalities of how to ensure a well-centred and defined final product.

As you can see in the image below, to obtain the best possible pressing, before inserting your copper, you should pay great attention to lining up the arrows of both the design cog and the provided indicator.

Other schools of thought insist that one should misalign the two arrows to a position either before or after the indicator, to give the die more time in contact with the coin. In this way, the impression made is more defined.

In my experience, it doesn't matter one bit. Either the machine is slightly misaligned or it isn't, but you're not going to know until it's too late! Best be safe and do what you're told.

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3. Shiny Or Dull?

So you've got some coppers there and you're ready to go. You've lined up the gears and you're about to crank. Wait a second! Before I let you get stuck in, a question about the condition of your coin: how shiny is it?

You see, its shine really does affect the end result. It depends what you want from the whole thing. Some pressers swear by the mirror finish they achieve from so-called 'rockstar pennies' (I made that term up, to be honest). Other more understated enthusiasts claim that the stretch marks visible on dull coins provide a powerful reminder of the mechanical process used to create them.

Personally, I always choose a good, shiny copper if I can get my hands on one, but don't worry too much if all you've got with you is the duller kind. And certainly do not start polishing your pennies in your free time, for use on the go. This hobby is eccentric enough without that kind of nonsense.

Get Out There And Press!

So now it's your turn! I have shown you the path to pressed penny paradise, but this is where my mentoring must end. Only you can take what you have learned today and apply it to your own life.

Pressed pennies are fun, cheap, personal souvenirs that also happen to be addictive to create and collect. Perhaps, before reading this post, you hadn't given those touristy gift shop coin machines much thought.

I won't claim that your life has been changed forever by the secrets I have revealed, but I hope at least to have drawn your attention to the many delights of thinking on a smaller coin-sized scale. After all, that's where the best memories are.

© 2022 Thomas Roeder

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