Penny Wise

It would seem that there is a day commemorating everything and this morning according to the CBC today is Lost Penny Day! A quick search at Days of the Year revealed that it is also Extraterrestrial Culture Day and Plum Pudding Day. Plum Pudding in February? Really? Well that is a line of questioning for another day.

But let’s give some thoughts to the penny (damn how’s that for a segue?) lost or found. Of course pennies went out of circulation here in Canada back in 2012. According to the government of the time it cost 1.6 cents to produce a 1 cent piece – though given their accounting practices … well never mind again that’s another question. The last penny was minted in Winnipeg on May 4th of that year and on February 4th 2013 the Mint began collecting and melting down the pennies in circulation.

Before 1858 coinage in Canada was a combination of the British sterling, American decimal coins, bank and commercial tokens, and the Spanish Milled Dollar. The first penny had a one inch diameter and was valued at two cents but when they were discontinued the name and size were applied to the one cent coin. The large penny was the second piece struck at the new Royal Mint when we began producing our own coinage in 1908. It was to remain a large coin until the size was reduced in 1920 to bring it in line with our neighbours to the South. And so it remained until 2012 when we indeed “lost” the penny.

But now the penny – the one cent, the copper – is lost to us. It is a thing of memory and you have to wonder what effect that will have on our language. Two generations from now will anyone know what was meant by all the phrases that reference the lowly penny. What will we be giving for a thought? What will we spend? What will be dropping? What exactly will a miser be pinching? The mind boggles!

And all this penny talk reminds me of a dreadful story (penny-dreadful!!! get it? Penny-dre… never mind!) that was a favourite of an former work colleague:

In a far eastern country there was a Sultan who decreed that sons of the Royal family must never shave on pain of death. Now the Sultan had many children but his favourite was Beni, the youngest and most handsome of his sons. As Beni reached manhood he obeyed his father’s decree and he let his beard grow. It was as black as coal and never once touched by a razor. It was full and luxuriant and Beni combed it, groomed it and perfumed it with sweet smelling oils. Beni, and indeed the entire kingdom, took great pride in his beard.

The women of the palace would often chatter and just as often blush when they spoke of the handsome Beni and his luxuriant beard. All but one: Fatima, the most beautiful woman in the kingdom. She did not like beards and thought that Beni would be more handsome without it. And of course that was the one woman that Beni loved more than any other woman in the kingdom.

But sadly as much as Beni paid court to her, she refused him. Beni pleaded but still Fatima refused; he sent her gifts but still she would not countenance his bewhiskered countenance. Finally Beni begged her to tell him what he could do to change her indifference to love. Fatima had only four words in reply: Shave off your beard!

Now love makes men do foolish things and in his passion Beni forgot the decree of his father, as indeed dear reader, in all probability so had you. Rashly he shaved off his beard and sadly he suffered the consequences. The Sultan went into a rage and, despite his love for his favourite son, had Beni beheaded. But in a moment of regret he had Beni’s body cremated and the ashes put in a beautiful mosaic urn. And because he wanted his favourite son always beside him he placed the urn at the right hand of his throne.

When Fatima heard what had happened she ran into the throne room and prostrated herself at the Sultan’s feet. Sobbing she begged for an explanation. The Sultan sighed and said that he had made a decree and that as heavy as his heart was, decrees must be followed. And he offered her the comfort that in this action there was a lesson to be learned. Fatima ask what lesson could possibly come from such a horror.

“Well my dear,” said the Sultan point to the urn at his side, “we have learned today that a Beni shaved is a Beni urned.”

Don’t blame me – I told you it was a nickel-dreadful! No that just doesn’t fall on the ear

On this day in 1818: Bernardo O’Higgins formally approves the Chilean Declaration of Independence near Concepción, Chile.