Opinion: Don’t underestimate the power of the penny
March 18, 2015
The poor lowly Lincoln cent, once a proud unit of currency with considerable influence has really been relegated to the back burner.
From inception, it has gone from something exchangeable for a postage stamp able to send a letter anywhere in the country, to being merely symbolic.
Has the poor penny really been relegated to the scrap heap of currency? Not exactly. The oft-overlooked fact is the lowly Lincoln cent has remarkable power to influence the process of government. The story below is a true story.
Working in the fiscal office of a federal agency years ago I was assigned one day the task of depositing the administrative checks. Our office routinely received check payments for refunds of employee travel advances, commissions on pay telephones and other earth-shaking admin functions.
“The oft-overlooked fact is the lowly Lincoln cent has remarkable power to influence the process of government.”
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Scanning the check log I thought today's deposit would be easy, but it was not quite that simple. My eyes stopped suddenly on an employee travel advance repayment. The usual check number was replaced by the word "cash."
With deposits, employees know they must submit a check or money order, and further, this deposit is for 1 cent. What did this worker do? Tape a penny to a travel voucher? Well yes, that is exactly what happened. Probably a retiree on his way out laying on a final practical joke.
OK, how do we handle a cash deposit not having had one before? What does one do? We could convene a group meeting, schedule a lunch and learn or ask the boss. I chose the latter course.
The answer was the penny deposit had be on a separate deposit ticket and must be hand-delivered to the bank. Whoa, hold on there — our bank is the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco. Is there a procedure for this transaction? Has the Fed every received a 1 cent deposit before?
Walking into the Fed, around the corner from the office, I stopped in my tracks — the lobby was full of people. Oh no, this is Treasury Auction day. People are bidding treasuries in $10K lots, so where do I go?
At window 22, two ladies from the cash department processed in the deposit, and they were in stitches over this magnanimous financial windfall.
At the end of month, while training a new worker assigned to reconciliation of deposits, there it is, at the top of an ascending balance schedule — the lowly 1 cent deposit.
Never knock the influence of the lowly Lincoln cent, because the effect it can have on government is remarkable.
Thank you, Mr. Lincoln, for sharing your image on our possibly most influential unit of currency.
Gary Stewart is an Incline Village resident.