This ‘Change’ worth stopping to pick up

Friday, July 3, 2015, Vol. 39, No. 27
By Terri Schlichenmeyer

Find a penny, pick it up. Words of advice from your grandfather, for whom a penny was worth bending over.

For you, one cent doesn’t buy much, so do you grab errant coins or step past them? What’s the deal with a lousy penny, anyhow? Harley J. Spiller makes it his hobby to know, and in “Keep the Change,” he’ll tell you.

We humans are a curious bunch. There’s a good chance, for instance, that you have fabric in your wallet, cloth you could exchange for dinner.

The fabric itself isn’t worth much – surely not as much as printed numbers inked by sixty tons of force might indicate. No, it’s the value we assign to it that really matters.

Dollar bills are made with “world-class” precision and safeguards, each made of 75 percent cotton, 25 percent special linen, measuring 2.61 inches by 6.14 inches by 0.0043 inches thick. “In 2012,” says Spiller, “more than eight billion rectangles… soaked up close to three thousand tons of ink to create just under $359 billion dollars.” That ain’t chump change, and the government constantly looks for ways to keep counterfeiters from reproducing the fine details, glow strips, and muted colors of foldable money. Even just scanning a dollar bill into your computer, Spiller notes, can result in a bit of unpleasantness…

And then there are the bits of metal you have in your pocket or purse.

Copper has been prized for eons: some Native Americans considered it sacred. The U.S. Mint begged to differ, though, and didn’t declare copper to be legal tender until 1862 – which meant that the first copper pennies, produced in 1792, couldn’t be deposited in a bank. Still, making cents made sense: pennies were traded for and used by slaves, and when Abraham Lincoln died, mourners turned “Indianhead” coins into souvenirs. Abe’s portrait on the penny proved to be even more popular: between 1909 and 2012, nearly 500 billion pennies were minted, although many people now jeer at the mere presence of a one-cent coin.

Keep the Change

by Harley J. Spiller

c.2015, Princeton Architectural Press


112 pages

Did you know that banks sometimes literally throw money away? Yep, and you’ll learn why (and more!) in “Keep the Change.”

Since he was a young boy, museum professional and author Harley J. Spiller has been a numismatist (coin collector) with a focus on mangled and altered cash.

In this entertaining book, he nicely melds his passion and quirky collection with photos and facts about money as a whole: its history, the reasons why it looks as it does, and a large list of alternates for the word “money.”

Spiller’s shared knowledge also fills in many cultural gaps to help readers understand money’s role in society, and embracing his glossary of terms will make you sound like the Big Wig of Big Bucks.

While you’ll surely learn a thing or two here, the real reason to read this book is to enjoy a lighthearted look at currency, recovered and made.

If that seems like great fun to you, then find “Keep the Change”… and pick it up.

Terri Schlichenmeyer’s reviews of business books are read in more than 260 publications in the U.S. and Canada.