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Jewish World Review
March 16, 2006
/ 16 Adar, 5766
Cents and Sensibility
When I came home Saturday afternoon, the kitchen table was blanketed with stacks and stacks of pennies perfectly
aligned in long, neat rows. The husband was pacing back and forth in front of them with his hands behind his back and his
reading glasses perched low on the bridge of his nose. It looked like Cornwallis inspecting a regiment of British Redcoats — or
in this case Copper Coats — before the Battle of Long Island.
The husband is only a semi-serious coin collector (semi-serious collectors save coins in cardboard Swiss Miss canisters, while
serious collectors save them in dignified 10-pound coffee cans). Still, he takes the business of awarding particular promotion
into the blue folders very seriously.
He was so engaged surveying the columns that he didn't notice I was in the room. I clicked my heels, gave a snappy salute and
said, "Problem with the rear guard, sir?"
"No," he said without looking up. "The problem is with 1982."
I racked my brain. "War on the Falklands?" I asked.
"Copper and zinc," he said.
He then turned toward me, balancing a penny on the tip of both index fingers as though I should know what this meant.
"A penny for my thoughts, one for each half of my brain?"
"No. Which one is zinc?"
As I would soon learn, before1982, pennies were 95 percent copper and 5 percent zinc. During 1982, mints switched the
composition around and the penny became 97.6 percent zinc and 2.4 percent copper, so a 1982 penny can be either mostly
copper or mostly zinc. And if you're confused, imagine how Abe Lincoln must feel.
"The copper penny weighs almost half a gram more and I'm trying to tell which 1982s are which. Here, see if you can tell
which one is heavier."
Since I have passed the Diet Pepsi and Diet Coke challenge, and the filtered and unfiltered water challenge with flying colors, I
was sure the zinc and copper penny challenge would be a snap.
I put the pennies on my fingertips and could tell immediately that, yes, without a doubt, they both felt exactly the same.
"No they don't," he said. "Concentrate. Close your eyes. The copper is on your left; can't you feel it is heavier?"
I tried again and failed again.
Determined that I note the difference, he retrieved the postal scale to illustrate the point, but the scale didn't weigh in small
enough increments to detect a difference.
Undaunted, he then constructed a scale by balancing an emery board across the tip of a bottle of lens-cleaning solution and
laying a penny on each end of the emery board.
"Look at that, can't you see it tilt toward the copper?"
All I could see was that the ratty emery board probably explained the ratty condition of my nails.
"Maybe I can see a little difference," I said. "The zinc is on the left!"
"No, the zinc is on the right!"
Though I failed to detect the weight difference, he was pleased I had attempted the feat, just as I was pleased sorting pennies
into piles of zinc and copper could bring a man an entire afternoon of entertainment.
All of which goes to prove it is not always necessary to enter into one another's areas of interest. There are times when it is
better to enjoy one another from afar. It's only common cents.
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© 2006, Lori Borgman
Richard Z. Chesnoff
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Ask Doctor K