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ARTS CORNER: Saying farewell to the penny

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On Feb. 4 the lowly penny will drop out of circulation after 155 years of weighing down your pockets.

Apparently the cost to the Royal Canadian Mint to make and distribute a penny now exceeds its value.

But what of the penny’s worth in our society, and what of the many robust references the penny has given to us?

Think of some of those connections as we mourn the lowly penny’s demise: Pretty penny, bad penny; penny saved is a penny earned; the penny drops; penny arcade; penny stocks; find a lucky penny; penny loafers and so on.

Or in artistic terms: the Three Penny Opera comes to mind.

This is a Kurt Weill opera which spawned the well-known and oft-covered jazz standard, Mack the Knife, as recorded variously by Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald and more recently by Michael Bublé.

All of this musical art derived from the lowly penny!

Artists and coins have a long connection and history in our country.

For example, the 1967 Centennial penny featured an image of a rock dove in flight with a maple branch in its beak.

The famous Canadian artist, Alex Colville, designed this image.

Many versions of the Queen’s profile and image have been contributed by other Canadian artists too numerous to mention but all have some version of maple leaves, our proud symbol in Canada.

Where will the maple leaf be seen after the penny is dropped?

Think about it: sale items won’t be listed at $9.99, or $29.99 ever again as rounding will now occur to the nearest five cents.

Without the penny we will lose the meaning of “$1.49 Day, Tuesday…”, the Woodwards jingle penned by New Westminster’s very own Tony Antonias, a lifetime member of the New Westminster Arts Council.

According to the Canadian Mint, side by side all of the pennies minted since 1858 would circle the globe 16 times! Useful trivia, but the Desjardins Group actually estimates there are 20 billion pennies laying in piggy banks and jars.

That’s a lot of coin, so consider this: The arts and artists in Canada knew how to celebrate the penny.

It’s time to celebrate the arts and give your pennies back. Think about donating your pennies to a charity of your choice. The arts are a good start!

We’ll call them Pennies From Heaven!

• Rick Carswell is president of the Arts Council of New Westminster.

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