Dear Penny Priestess,

I had an incident a couple years back that still puzzles me to this day. I was working at a very high end luxury retailer out west, and upon leaving work with my other co-workers, one of them said, “Hey, you have pennies all over your car!” In fact they were everywhere! All over the hood, top and trunk. What was very strange to me was there wasn’t any on the concrete next to my car. We all thought, wow, how could anyone do this and not even spill them on the ground. I immediately became frightened (thinking I had been targeted by a gang ... like this was a sign or something), so I called the police. They must have thought I was crazy except I had several witnesses, but they just dismissed it—said not to be worried ... And here I am, still wondering what that was all about. Maybe you can provide some clarity.

The Penny Priestess gets frequent questions about pennies on thresholds, window sills, garden gates, and graves. She has even gotten emails about pennies inside shoes, toilets, shower stalls, and bowls of soup (yes, really). Yours was the first email about pennies on cars—and then two days later she got another one:

Myself and two coworkers went to lunch today and when we returned to our vehicle there were two pennies next to one another other on the passenger side of the hood. Both were heads up. Any ideas? 

The PP always has plenty of ideas and is never shy about putting them forth to the world. Here, it may be that the unknown penny placers had two confused motives: first, getting rid of excess change cluttering up his or her car; second, the obscure but widespread custom of putting pennies in strategic places for luck, or (see answer below to the penny-in-a-cobbler-dish question) leaving them for someone else as an obscure compliment or even a random “hello there!”

But of course the most important question must always be: Are these pennies lucky? A comparison of these two interesting cases raises an additional quality-versus-quantity issue: Which is luckier: two carefully positioned heads-up pennies or a whole lot of deliberately scattered pennies?

The answer, unfortunately, is that deliberately placed pennies are not endowed with luck; if they were, we could create a world of universal luck and happiness by the cheap charitable donation of leaving all our unwanted pennies in strategic locations.

All the same, were these pennies found on the PP's car, she would honor their weirdness by adding them to her lucky penny jar collection.

...

Yesterday I attended an informal party and brought a cobbler-type dessert that everyone seemed to be crazy about and was all gone in minutes. Hours later when I was about to leave, I noticed that someone had placed a penny in the pan that had contained the dessert.  I did not know many of the party attendees and felt too shy to inquire about it. I can find nothing on the web regarding this as a custom or tradition. It might help you to know that the bottom of the dessert was a bit burnt and stuck to the pan and it had not been washed yet when the penny was found. Can you enlighten me please? I sure would love to know ... even if it was an insult.

The Penny Priestess is strictly a penny picker-upper and not fully cognizant of the varied and often rather odd intentions of penny putter-downers. Sometimes the motives are obvious enough. The PP has seen pennies ritually scattered around a bike mechanic’s trueing stand, and she has exchanged a good bit of correspondence with puzzled new tenants of homes that have pennies strategically placed on the thresholds or in the corners. In these cases it is obvious enough that the penny putter-downers hope to ward off bad luck. They are wrong, of course: only a lost-and-found penny is lucky—and oftentimes not quite lucky enough.

Your dessert-pan penny seems to be more of a vague nonverbal compliment—a copper-plated smiley face to say: “Liked it! Thank you!” It is reminiscent of the cheapskate convention of leaving an extra penny on top of a normal restaurant tip as a way of saying “Thank you for your excellent service”—instead of leaving an extra dollar or two, which would certainly be more appreciated.

Now, we penny picker-uppers all know that a penny must be lost in order to be lucky. So a deliberately placed penny is no luckier than any penny exchanged in normal commerce. It is just possible, however, that this penny was lost. Perhaps someone was counting out his or her pocket change and got jostled. In that case, you may not want to treat this penny as though it were an ordinary one-hundredth of a dollar. The PP keeps pennies of doubtful provenance in a special place (a desk drawer) separate from her jar of frankly lucky pennies.

...

I share an apartment with someone who leaves when I come to town. He’s not very good about cleaning so I invariably do most of that, including cleaning the toilet. For months, there has been a penny, heads up, in the toilet that I have not taken out because I found it gross. I got over myself a couple of weeks ago and took it out (with chopsticks! Clever me, I thought!) I just came back to the apartment after being gone for a couple of weeks and lo and behold, the penny is back! Why would my slightly strange apartment mate—who, by the way, has spent significant time in the middle east—replace the penny?

The Penny Priestess would love to know the answer as much as you would, in order to add it to her burgeoning collection of penny oddities. Perhaps you could leave him a polite note, asking if the penny is important to him and if so you will leave it undisturbed in the future, but you would of course like to know for sure?

The PP hears regularly of pennies found repeatedly in places where pennies ought not to be: inside one's shoes, in the shower, between the sheets, in a bowl of soup, and so forth. She has even answered a question about pennies and toilets once before. Here she can only suggest some obscure private joke on the part of your apartment mate, relating to the old-fashioned slang of “to spend a penny” as a euphemism for “to urinate.”

...

We’ve recently moved out of our apartment of seven years. We did our “final” clean up and things were spotless, I even swept and mopped. A week later when I came back to return the mail key, the maintenance guy asked if I had a thing for pennies or practiced any kind of “good luck/witchcraft.” Looking at him strangely, confused, I said no. He said that’s weird because when he went in to paint the place he found in every corner in the rooms and closets a penny heads down. We all thought it was strange because neither of us put them there, plus my eight-year-old never passes up a penny or coins. Can you give me your opinion?

“Why pennies in every corner” is easier to answer that “who put them there”: the PP gets a great deal of mail from people who move to a new house or apartment and find pennies strategically placed throughout: in corners, on thresholds, over windows and doors, in order to bless the home and ward off bad luck. But if it wasn’t you, and it wasn’t the maintenance guy, then we are at a loss to know who put the pennies there. Perhaps the apartment had already been shown, and the prospective new tenant believed it’s never too soon to try to bring some good luck to a new move.

...

On New Year’s Eve of 2011 I was with my family in a quaint beach town that had one upscale restaurant which was definitely the town favorite and quickly filling up. Before we sat down I excused myself to the washroom and while rinsing my hands a beautiful Middle Eastern woman entered wearing the most amazing blue Hijab across her head I have ever seen. When I reached for the towels I noticed something on my side of the basin, it was a penny. The penny was heads up and very shiny for being made in 1977. She did not say anything, only smiled and walked out. It was a very sweet gesture of her and I have wondered ever since, does the penny symbolize good luck across the globe? The penny was very apparently given and not found, does that change anything with its luck?

The Penny Priestess hesitates to make global generalizations, but it is certainly true that many cultures have traditions that associate pennies (or other low-value coins) with luck. A deal might be concluded with a “luck penny.” A bride might put a penny in her shoe. A new homeowner might put a penny over the threshold, in addition to taking out the usual insurance policy. Of course, New Year’s Day has its own good luck lore. (The Penny Priestess has always put more faith in a penny found on January 1 than in the ritual consumption of a bowl of black-eyed peas.) Most likely the woman’s action reflects some tradition that involves both lucky pennies and the new year.

However, the Penny Priestess does not believe pennies can be given for luck. If we could achieve health, happiness and solvency by the mere exchange of pennies (or by a bowl of black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day), then we could eliminate suffering and injustice not just for ourselves but for everyone (and not just for every human, but for dogs, cats, canaries, raccoons, elephants, tigers and so forth, if we trained them to do a simple penny-exchange trick). Luck can be neither created nor destroyed. There is only so much luck to be had, and it is not nearly enough to go around. Nonetheless, the novelty and mystery of your gift penny render it worthy of inclusion in a lucky penny jar.

...

I found four pennies on on the same day. Three of them were found within several feet of each other on my way somewhere, and one was found on the way back. I've had a very “up” feeling, like something good, conclusive, was going to happen all week. And on Thursday, I bumped into my old girlfriend, who I have not seen for four years. She called my name out and it was so nice to see her again. I emailed her the following day and we are going to meet for coffee soon.

Such a lovely, penny-affirming story—thank you for it! The Penny Priestess herself once had an experience somewhat like yours, except in her case a single found penny brought professional rather than romantic good fortune. Although all found pennies are lucky, it is most often the case that we are unable to perceive their luckiness—usually because the luck of the penny is expended in preventing bad luck headed our way. Your experience is special: Treasure those four manifestly lucky pennies!

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My boyfriend rides a motorcycle. Last week he had some work done on it and when he went to retrieve his motorcycle he found a penny placed on the seat. He assumed the mechanic did it. The same shop did more work on his bike this past Tuesday but he didn’t notice a penny this time. This morning he went out to our locked, alarm-secured garage to only find another penny on his motorcycle seat—heads up. We cannot explain how it got there or why. We find it hard to believe that he didn’t notice the second penny placed by the mechanic since he rode it for two days in a row and surely it would of fell off by this morning.

Your theory that the mechanic placed the first penny on the saddle is no doubt correct. There is a sect of penny believers who place pennies in strategic locations to bring luck to their endeavors. The Penny Priestess knows of a bicycle mechanic who scatters pennies near his truing stand. She has also seen a penny persistently kept in the basket of a beater bike chained at a nearby rack—either to protect the bike from thieves or the rider from careless car drivers, perhaps. Possibly the mechanic’s penny (or pennies) represented a double wish: for your boyfriend’s safety and for the success of his own repair work.

The Penny Priestess is a devout believer in penny luck but not in penny miracles. A rational explanation should be possible. For example, if a penny is just a little bit sticky, it might adhere to saddle leather. Moreover, if this mechanic scatters pennies liberally around the shop, and if your boyfriend wears leathers, he might have sat down on a penny and inadvertently carried it home to the garage.

If–if–if! Life is a chaotic jumble of inexplicable and unforeseen events—in which the only comforting certitude is that found pennies are lucky, sometimes just lucky enough to ward off the next random hazard.

...

We recently bought an old home and started cleaning it up to renovate it. The place is in pretty bad shape. We are finding mostly pennies, but even some dimes and a couple of quarters. First we thought they were from kids, we started finding them scattered outside the house in the dirt. Then they were in all of the floor registers in the house. We started noticing them on window sills, in the carpet tack strips, in the cupboards, and pull out drawers, and even under the false bottoms of cabinets! Just a single penny. Then we found a round metal dog tag that said “7th Thou Shalt Not Steal.” We started saving the coins in a jar. What’s going on?

If it was just pennies, pennies, pennies here there and everywhere in the house, the Penny Priestess would suggest that this was just an extreme version of the practice of placing pennies on thresholds, etc., to protect the home. But the multitude of pennies seems part of a general pattern of slovenliness and helplessness on the part of the former owners. For whatever reason, they found themselves unwilling or unable to maintain their home, and perhaps they scattered pennies around in the hope that things were sort themselves out, that they’d muddle through somehow.

If these pennies were deliberately placed, rather than lost, they are neither lucky nor unlucky. In fact, they are rather sad pennies. But, as they are part of the history of your house, the Penny Priestess thinks you have done the right, penny-pious thing in keeping them in their own special jar.

...

Recently a coworker of mine had strange penny-related incidents in the retail establishment at which we work. One day about a month ago, he showed me pennies he had found in three different locations around the store showroom. The pennies were not strange on their own (though we process mostly credit payments, and little cash), but the way they were found was very odd.

Beneath each penny had been placed a torn strip from our state lottery's Keno game. Just a paper strip saying “KENO” and a penny placed upon it. Thinking this was just the action of a bored patron and nothing more, we nearly forgot about it—until yesterday when another employee witnessed something strange. Around mid-afternoon, a woman was seen pulling into our parking lot, exiting her car, and placing another one of the "Keno pennies" on the sidewalk. She then made a gesture (perhaps religious/superstitious in nature), got back into her car and drove away.

Can you find any meaning or reason in this? We are all at a loss.

There is a strange sect of penny believers who place pennies in strategic locations to bring luck to their endeavors. Given that bit of background, it's not too difficult to guess what this woman is up to with hers. She wants to win the lottery. Possibly she's focusing her pennies on your storeroom because you sell something she wants, which she cannot currently afford.

She is misguided: as all true penny believers know, only found pennies are lucky. Moreover, the luck of a found penny works in its own mysterious way and not in response to any wish or prayer of the penny-finder. The lucky penny god won't buy you a Mercedes Benz, or get you a winning lottery ticket. Sometimes the luck of a found penny serves merely to ward off bad luck—allowing us to blunder along for another day without anything really awful happening to us. Shouldn't that be good luck enough for anybody?

...

I've been doing a little looking into in our family history ... superstitions, signs, home remedies and the likes thereof. Seems I have a family member who had a squirrel leave a penny on her window ledge on her wedding day. She kept the penny ... thought it was good luck.

Any thoughts? This of course happened years ago. Nana was my Grandmother's sister .... there were five girls total. Anyway my Grannie was born in 1924 ... and Nana was the oldest. I'm not sure if they were married pre, during or post the WWII.

A penny—left by a squirrel—on one’s wedding day? How bizarre and, of course, how extraordinarily lucky! The Penny Priestess occasionally puts nuts and seeds on her balcony for the squirrels, and all the ungrateful beasties have ever left for her in return are the shells, their fleas, and their scat.

Your Nana would have been an uncompromising and unimaginative skeptic not to treasure such a penny—delivered by such an unusual agent, on such a special day. It seems almost like a fairy tale event, except the squirrel didn’t speak up to offer her three wishes, or to ask for a kiss.

So it seems your great aunt and her husband have long ago, like all golden lads and girls, gone to dust. If not happily ever after, the Penny Priestess hopes that her life was a good one, take it all and all, and that she never lost sight of her lucky penny.

...

For the last month or so pennies have just been appearing out of the blue. The first few I didn’t think anything of it but it keeps happening and there is no other change around. The other day I found one on my kitchen counter that was not there before.

And the next morning I found another one on the same counter beside a feather I was drying. This morning there was one on my computer pad. I am keeping them separate from my other change. I am finding them at least three times a week. What does this mean?

The Penny Priestess is sorry, but she doesn't know what it means. It might mean that you are very, very lucky (luckier than the PP herself, who is not finding pennies so frequently). However, even that is uncertain: If these are your own household pennies, finding them is luck-neutral. That's because the luck of a found penny must come from the person who lost it.

Nonetheless, you have done well and wisely in keeping these pennies separate. Pennies found in odd places about the house fall into a special category that the PP calls "pennies of doubtful provenance"--that is, pennies that may or may not be lucky. It is prudent to keep these in a distinct location, as you have done, neither adding them to the spare change supply, nor inflating your lucky penny jar with dubious finds.

As noted below, the PP has been getting a good bit of email lately on the theme of I-found-a-penny-in-an-odd-place. These questions are innately difficult to answer; but, from the PP's perspective, they represent a welcome change from all the I-found-a-penny-and-does-it-mean-someone-in-heaven-is-thinking-of-me mail she had been getting.

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This morning I was making up my bed and as soon as I pulled up the comforter, I took note of three pennies lying there! I am sure it was absolutely clear of anything last night when I turned down the covers! What could this possibly mean? Thank you for your consideration.

Hello ... this might sound very strange, however, this morning, I awoke to find two pennies literally stuck to my stomach. Now, bear in mind, I did not sleep in a messy bed that had change in it or anything else. They were not there when I went to bed last night after getting my pajamas on ...

This too may sound rather strange, but the Penny Priestess has been getting a lot of emails over the last six months about people finding pennies in their beds, or sometimes in their shoes when they get up in the morning, or in other places where pennies are not apt to be, such as the bathtub. The two paragraphs above are only the most recent examples.

What does this mean? Aside from the undoubted truth that all found pennies are lucky, the Penny Priestess cannot say. Do you usually walk right past pennies on the sidewalk or in a parking lot? If so, it might mean the lucky penny god has to try extra hard to get your attention. Then again, the lucky penny god is a trickster god, and he might just enjoy weirding people out with his pennies.

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I just googled my question and found your site. My story is that I just returned from a job interview with the supplemental insurance company AFLAC. I took my jeans off and set them on the bed, invariably over another set of jeans that were already on the bed. I typically do not carry cash or change with me. But I must have had some in my pocket from the night before.

I picked up the jeans that I had taken off to discover two pennies had apparently fallen out of the pocket(s) and onto the jeans I had set those jeans on. These two pennies are both face down and both on each of my back jean pockets. As a matter of fact they are both facing the same exact position. The words under the Lincoln Monument is sideways with the words One Cent between 7-11 on a clock face. Any significance?

The Penny Priestess is delighted to learn that googling for "job interview two pennies jeans pockets" takes you to her site--despite the fact that she has not spent a penny on search engine optimization services! However, the occurrence you describe is a synchronicity, not a lucky penny finding, since the pennies were your own. A synchronicity might be frightening or beautiful or dramatic or just mildly odd—and perhaps best explained as a little practical joke of the trickster gods.

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I'm looking for a house to buy, and when I looked at one last week, there was a penny on the table, and I picked it up thinking it was a good sign. I think it was tails. What do you think?

Well, it might have been tails. Or it might have been heads. Either way, a found penny is almost always lucky.

The Penny Priestess says "almost" because luck can be neither created nor destroyed: the luck of a found penny must come from the person who lost it. In this instance, we cannot be certain the penny was lost. It might have been placed there quite deliberately by the home owner.

Some penny sectarians believe that they can bring good luck to their ventures by placing pennies in strategic positions: over thresholds or atop gate posts, on a desk or computer or work station, and so forth. The Penny Priestess once encountered a pious bike mechanic who scattered pennies around his wheel truing stand. Of course, it can be very difficult to determine whether a penny has been discarded or deliberately left, but in this case the PP would feel more certain of your luckiness if you had found the penny on the sidewalk or in the street.

Still, if you like the house, why not make an offer? If the penny had been left there deliberately for good luck, the happy seller will feel convinced of the power of pennies forever after.

...

I've recently been through a gruesome job interview process for just one organization. While back for the ump-teenth tme, this time to do an assignment they needed to assess my writing skills. As I was leaving the computer, I saw two pennies on the floor next to my chair. One had its head facing up and the other facing down. At first I thought it was good luck. But then later in the day, they called and said they're not giving me an offer. They expected more from me for the two hours I was there.

My question is: what does finding two pennies mean? It's the one thing I recall and stands out in my mind.

The Penny Priestess sympathizes. She can relate. She once dropped a penny at a critical moment in her day-job career. That penny rolled right under a counter, never to be seen again, and things went rather sour for the PP from that time forward.

Now, a Penny Fundamentalist might say that a found penny (in this case, two found pennies) is not lucky unless it is retrieved, firmly grasped in the hand, then safely put away. The Penny Priestess finds this view excessively literal-minded, even materialistic. There are those times when one is worried about some prospect, hoping for a bit of luck—and lo! a penny where it cannot be easily retrieved, perhaps in the middle of a busy intersection when crossing against the light. The Penny Priestess always advises against picking up such pennies. The penny god, though usually benevolent, is a trickster god.

In your job interview setting, it would certainly have been awkward to reach for the pennies. After all, they might have been placed there deliberately, as yet another test, to ascertain whether you were the type of employee who went home at the end of the day with stray paperclips and rubber bands in your pockets.

A Penny Manichean would say that, since one penny was heads-up (good) and one penny was tails-up (evil), they canceled each other out and had no influence on your luckiness or unluckiness. The Penny Priestess has argued against this position on multiple occasions: all found pennies are lucky, whether heads or tails.

The Penny Priestess believes that it is often impossible to gauge the effect of penny finding on our lives: in effect, we don't know when we're lucky, and we don't know what's good for us. In your case, it might not have been so lucky to land a job with people who are that difficult to please. Those two pennies, winking up at you so encouragingly, may be sign that something better will come along!

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I found a penny the other day and was thrilled! Today, I was at the store and the cashier needed a penny to even out her drawer before she closed out. She asked for one and I gave her one but it wasn’t the one I had found. Mine was locked safely away at home. Will the penny I gave her be lucky for her?

The little ditty about lucky pennies that almost everyone has heard goes like this: "Find a penny, pick it up / All day long you'll have good luck. / Give a penny to a friend / And your luck will never end." The Penny Priestess thinks this notion of giving away pennies in order to achieve enduring good luck is both superstitious and improbable. It's also a trifle selfish, since the intent of the gift is to benefit oneself, not the recipient.

The PP is intrigued that you seem to have it backwards: you want to give a found penny away in order to bring luck to someone else. People, like you, who are kind and caring will tend to focus on their own good luck and not selfishly complain that things could be better. What could be luckier than to be endowed with such a generous, good-natured disposition? The Penny Priestess cannot say whether the clerk will be lucky or not, but it's very nice of you to wish it for her.

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My grandmother's caretaker throws pennies in our driveway from time to time. After a while, there would seem to be handfuls of pennies scattered across our driveway. Do you have any idea of what this may mean? If it helps, he says he's a world traveled ex-navy personnel and his reasons for throwing the pennies down are in no way believable.

That information helps, but mostly by multiplying the possibilities. Many cultures have a ritual observance that involves giving or throwing away a penny (or other low-value coin) for luck, especially before setting off on a journey. In one tradition fishermen empty their pockets of pennies before going out on their boats. Then there's the fondness that so many tourists have for tossing coins into fountains. Could your ex-navy caretaker have formed a habit of tossing all his pennies into the ocean for general good luck and safe travel?

We are all entitled to our little penny rituals—the lucky penny religion is ecumenical and nonsectarian—but the PP cannot approve of pitching handfuls of pennies on the ground, where anyone may pick them up, since we all know that the luck of a found penny must come from the person who lost it.

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I'm giving a presentation at school where the common thing to do is pass out candy or some type of treat. I was thinking of bringing a bag of pennies and passing them out to every student and then having them exchange pennies with another student in the class. Would this still be considered good luck? Even though no one technically found a penny?

Alas, no, as a simple thought experiment will illustrate. Let's suppose that you and I, the Penny Priestess, sit down to do some serious penny exchanging. I give you a penny. You give me a penny. I give you a penny. You give me a penny. We keep at this for some hours, until we are overcome by fatigue. Can we both expect to be luckier as a result of this activity? If yes, where did the luck come from? Surely luck can be neither created or destroyed but only transferred back and forth. If one supposes luck can be spontaneously generated by an exchange of pennies, why is the world not getting progressively more sane, more kind, more livable?

Vast numbers of pennies are exchanged in the course of daily business. While it's true that things could always be worse, they are not getting noticeably better, as one would expect if a mere exchange of pennies could grant increased luckiness to the penny exchangers.

You may nonetheless choose to distribute a bag of pennies among the students, perhaps encouraging them to look at the dates and discuss any notable events of that year. In the Penny Priestess' opinion, pennies are much nicer and healthier than candy, provided, of course, that one does not swallow them.

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My family has a rental property and the previous tenants moved out. They left the house very clean and on good terms. When we were doing our final cleaning, we noticed in the corners of the room laying on the floor there was a penny in each corner face up. Basically, each room had four pennies, all face up.

Can you tell me what this means? I've never seen or heard of this before.

The Penny Priestess must confess it's a new one for her too. But clearly the penny-in-each-corner arrangement is a variation upon the traditional practice of placing pennies on or over thresholds and sills to bring good luck to the home. (On this topic see the fairly comprehensive answer to the second letter below.) Heads-up placement is customary, stemming from a stubborn, widespread heterodoxy holding that only the heads-up penny brings luck. This, as the Penny Priestess has commented on numerous occasions, is a base superstition.

But ritual loves formal symmetry, so perhaps your former tenants felt luckier with pennies in each corner, protecting the four corners of the room from evil emanating from any of the four mythical corners of the earth. The Penny Priestess is intrigued by the challenges of combining this ritual observance with the demands of cleanliness. Unless your neat tenants swept up the old-fashioned way with broom or dustmop, they risked losing their votive pennies—clank, clankety-clank clank!—in the vacuum cleaner. And, as we all know, it is risky to lose or misplace one's pennies, since the luck of a found penny can only come from the person who lost it.

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When I moved recently I discovered my new apartment had pennies, heads up, over most of the doorways and windows, even over closet doors. What does this signify? And should I put pennies over the windows and doors that don't have them?

The I-found-pennies-on-the-windows-and-doors question is among the most frequently asked, ranking just behind a-penny-miraculously-appeared-in-my-soup-and-is-it-a-gift-from-an-angel question and just ahead of the why-are-pennies-put-on-or-in-graves question. (Obviously the Penny Priestess keeps very careful statistics.) Rather than answer it yet again, she refers you to her previous commentary here and here and here.

Your second question is a bit more interesting, as it brings up the issue of the meaning of ritual. Do we place pennies in lucky penny jars or on windowsills as a pious observance only—signifying our belief in the importance of luck in our personal happiness and safety—and indeed in all our achievements? Or do we do so as an obligatory ritual—risking some terrible unspeakable misfortune if we fail in performing any aspect of our ritual duties? It seems to the Penny Priestess that the previous occupants of your apartment, in placing pennies so obsessively over closet doors, took a ritualistic view. It is certainly not incumbent upon you to do so. However, the Penny Priestess would advise you to leave the pennies in their places or else transfer them to a lucky penny jar. Rituals should always be respected, and so should lucky pennies.

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We bought our house 2.5 years ago, I remember putting up the window treatments and seeing like a round copper object in each sill right in the middle with a nail through it. These were old so at the time I could not tell they were pennies. Today as we are putting up our tree my husband says, what are these? I said I do not know. I really thought they were there for holding down the strings or something from blinds.

They are pennies for sure, and I have looked in all the windows, and each one has one except a couple where they looked like they are just missing because the nail is still there. Is this a good thing or can it also be for a bad thing such as voodoo? I do not know if we should replace the missing ones or take them all off, which may be bad luck. I do know the same people had lived here since the house was built in the 80's. They are of African-American descent, not sure if Jamaican.

The Penny Priestess is not aware of a specific folk tradition for nailing pennies to windowsills, but there is congruity with other familiar good luck customs, such as nailing a lucky horseshoe over a door. There are many traditions for placing lucky talismans, especially coins, in foundation stones and above thresholds—which is sometimes extended to protecting all the openings to the outside. Often these traditions are very local. In some parts of the American South, for example, the blessed palms from the Palm Sunday service would be placed on a southern windowsill to protect the house from tornadoes. Some such idea of achieving protection from storms, intruders, evil spirits, or plain old bad luck surely motivated the prior owners of your house. The Penny Priestess does not approve of defacing pennies and so would not advise replacing the ones that are missing, but she does feel confident that the original pennies were nailed in place in order to protect and bless the home.

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Where did the term "a bad penny" come from? I know the meaning but am having trouble finding the origin of it.

Nowadays, when pennies are a debased coinage (zinc with a copper coating) of negligible value, we forget that a penny was once a small silver coin of some worth and, like other silver and gold coins, subject to forgery. If someone passed you a bad penny or a bad shilling, you would likely take the first opportunity to palm it off to a too-trusting customer or distracted merchant, who would rapidly repeat the trick. "Turning up again like a bad penny" suggests that the bad penny circulates so rapidly that it eventually comes home again. The Penny Priestess is speculating a bit here, based on a very nice explanation for a lovely, undeservedly obscure word: "truepenny."

The Penny Priestess believes that all pennies are good and true. There are bad people, bad hairstyles, and bad investments, but no bad pennies, none, not even the ones found tails up. Finding the idea of a bad penny to be mildly blasphemous, she prefers to substitute other funny-money expressions, as the context allows: "don't take any wooden nickels," "not worth a plug nickel, "as phony as a three dollar bill," and so forth.

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My friends just moved into a new (to them) home. When they moved in, they found that the previous owners had left the place spotless but also had left a penny on every windowsill in the home. What is the significance of this, if any?

There are many traditions of leaving protective tokens or amulets on windowsills and thresholds to guard the household against evil spirits or plain old bad luck: pennies serve the purpose very well. This fine old custom has nearly disappeared in our crassly skeptical times, yet it is a sensible and economical supplement to the more common practice of shelling out money for homeowner's insurance. How much better to prevent theft, fires, floods and tornadoes in the first place than simply be compensated for their ruinous effects, minus a large deductible!

In addition to being tidy and considerate of others, the prior owners of this house must have had a proper reverence for the luckiness of pennies. It was no doubt part of their thoughtfulness to leave the pennies behind for the new owners. The Penny Priestess hopes your friends have left them in place, as it may be unlucky to remove them.

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Someone visited my home recently and used my bathroom. When they left I found a penny in front of the toilet placed tails up. What does this mean? Thank you for any information concerning this incident.

Most interesting! It happens that pennies and toilets share a rich social and linguistic history. Back in the days when public facilities were usually pay toilets, the fee for a pee was one penny. (Later inflated to a dime, a shilling, a franc, 500 lire, etc., depending on the nationality of the toilet.) “To spend a penny” is old-fashioned slang in the United Kingdom for “to urinate.” It would be nice to suppose that “pee” is similarly derived from the slang for pence as “pee” (five pee, ten pee, and so on). But Webster’s Third International, that stodgy old spoilsport, says that “pee” originated as p___, a euphemistic shorthand for the more vulgar “piss”.

The Penny Priestess cannot tell you whether your particular penny was dropped deliberately (perhaps as some obscure reference to the British slang phrase) or accidentally (in the shuffling up, down, and around of the visitor's clothing). However, this penny, like all found pennies, is lucky. Do not despise it for its unsavory origins but add it to your lucky penny jar, if you have one.

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I know this is a really weird question, but can you put a good luck charm on a penny?

No question can be too weird for the Penny Priestess, so long as it concerns pennies. The answer is: of course you may, only you might not like the requirements. It is nothing nasty or difficult like collecting newt eyes and bat wings. To put a good luck charm on a penny you simply have to let it negligently drop to the ground.

Unfortunately—since luck can be neither created nor destroyed—the good luck that the penny acquires comes from you and goes to the person who picks up your lost penny. If a mere charm could endow pennies with luckiness de novo, if one could coin luck as easily as one mints a penny, then surely the cumulative superabundance of charmed pennies would long ago have transformed this miserable planet into a paradise of plenty and equality. No such luck.

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My mom recently passed away from cancer. Prior to her passing, for several days she was trying to tell me something about pennies. On the fourth day I finally got a little information out of her. It went like this: She told me to get all the pennies—I had to make sure I had them ALL. I got all that I had and then she said I had to put them on the floor. After I put them on the floor, she said I had to pick them all up and put them back. After I put them back, with great relief in her mind, she said “That’s it, now everyone will live, we will all have eternal life.” I thought this very odd and at first attributed it to the drugs she was taking for her pain. However, I spoke to several people about it because she was so intent when trying to tell me and so excited about it when she finally was able to make me understand and then was so relieved afterwards. A few people told me they had heard some kind of story like this but couldn’t remember how it went. I have since researched this on the internet for endless hours and really come up with nothing even close. We sent her to her resting place with bags of pennies hoping it will help her RIP. But can you help our family with this story or myth or whatever it may be?

Was your mother of some distinct ethnicity? Could she have heard stories and folklore from the old country as a child? If so, you might try researching the folklore and funeral customs of that country. Her request—and her statement when you fulfilled it—suggest the pennies were part of a resurrection ritual: they are first placed on the ground, as if dead and interred, then picked up again as if restored to life. Many different cultures have a folklore tradition that associates pennies (or other small coins) with death and the afterlife. There is the almost universal custom of placing pennies on the eyes or under the tongue, to pay for passage to the underworld—a practice that survived in the Christian era under various guises. A wake or a funeral might include a collection box for pennies, which were then given to the poor or to the parish priest in exchange for prayers to be said for the soul of the deceased. Pennies were sometimes thrown by mourners into the grave. So placing the bags of pennies in your mother’s grave is a loving gesture with many centuries of history and meaning.

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I think I’m being stalked and the stalker leaves me pennies in odd places, on my window sill yesterday, etc. Normally I go with the German saying: “Honor the penny and you will be worth the dollar.” So I pick up the occasional penny for good luck, but being stalked is bad and I need to stop it. I’m a foreigner and have no clue about the cult of pennies or any interest in the worship of money, but I am irritated by being stalked and what does this penny thing mean? I hope you are a priestess of the good and pursue your penny worshiping for purposes of benefiting the common good, are you?

The Penny Priestess is familiar with that beautiful and noble German saying, so little known here in the United States. The cult of the almighty American dollar does not extend to the humble penny. If you are a new resident of this country, it could be you are finding so many pennies because there are more to find. Most Americans despise pennies for their limited buying power and will fling them to the ground along with their ATM receipts, cigarette butts, spent chewing gum and fast food wrappers.

If the pennies are being deliberately placed for you and only you to find, the message (perhaps an allusion to “a penny for your thoughts”?) does not seem menacing. The penny is among the most innocent, unassuming and harmless of our common possessions. It cannot wound, or start a fire, or arouse envy in others. According to the tenets of our penny religion, the luck of a found penny comes from the person who lost or abandoned it. So, even if the pennies are being left with some malicious intent, what is meant for evil is turned to your good luck. The Penny Priestess recommends that you continue to honor the penny and to pick these pennies up, since, however they got there, they are nonetheless lucky finds.

The penny faith is admittedly not among the so-called major religions—if only because no wars, pogroms or persecutions have yet been committed in the name of the Lucky Penny God—but neither is it a cult. We do not wear silly robes or babble prophecies—nor do we worship money or pretend to a luckier-than-thou superiority to others. Our penny observances are devoted purely to acknowledging the overwhelming importance of luck in determining one’s health, happiness and prosperity. The Penny Priestess herself can say that she has never made a penny by her religion, except for those she picks up.

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Someone once told me that when you find a coin on the ground and you pick it up it means that someone in heaven is thinking of you. Have you ever heard this before?

Hah! The Penny Priestess sees what is going on here. First it was Neoplatonism and the festival of Adonis, then the Druidic Yule tree and the Anglo-Saxon celebration of the vernal equinox—now they are after our Penny God. A certain major religion is always pilfering the best ideas of the minor religions. Then that major religion puts its own bigger-and-better marketing spin on the concept—gifts under the tree! a cute bunny (rather than a scary pooka) providing home delivery of your fertility-symbol eggs! good luck straight from heaven with every coin you find! Join now and get the afterlife of your dreams!

Well, since the Penny Religion is ecumenical and all-accepting, you may believe in that thoughtful person in heaven if you must. But it’s really the Penny God. And it isn’t coins—just pennies.

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Why do some people put pennies on the eyes of the deceased?

One explanation is that the pennies were traditionally used to keep dearly beloved’s eyes shut for a deathbed viewing or a wake, since no one enjoys the cold stare of a corpse, however well-loved during life. So James Joyce writes in Ulysses: “She bore his children and she laid pennies on his eyes to keep his eyelids closed when he lay on his deathbed.” This seems nicer and more respectful than the contemporary embalmer’s trick of glueing the eyelids shut. But it may have been a rationalization or adaptation of an older, pagan tradition.

In the ancient world, it was widely believed that you could take it with you. Thus, the rich and noble were buried with precious jewels and artwork to carry their high status with them into the afterlife—and a good thing too, because archeology would be a drab, dull subject if they hadn’t. For the not-so rich and not-at-all noble, the respectable minimum was to furnish the departed with the little bit of pocket change for the journey into the Beyond. The ancient Greeks and Romans placed a low value silver coin called an obol in the mouth of their dead, which was to pay Charon to ferry the ghost across the river Styx into the underworld. Many other cultures also buried coins with their dead, apparently on the shared assumption that their journey was long and might involve expenses. If the pennies on the eyelids are a survival of the tradition of paying Charon for his ferry services, the two-cent fare seems very reasonable in an era when a one-way subway ride comes to two dollars.

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Just discovered your website while trying to research the significance of putting pennies over doorways to ward off evil spirits. Friends just moved into a new home and within a couple of nights they were wakened nightly by the sound of a child crying. They also discovered pennies over every doorway in the house, which they removed. I’ve understood that the placement of pennies over doorways (they were always face up) is seen as a way of warding off evil spirits. Do you know anything more to enlighten us? Should they return the pennies to their places?

There is an ancient and worldwide tradition of placing good luck talismans or tokens above or below a threshold—to keep evil spirits out and to empower the good spirits within. Usually only the outer doorway is so protected, but no harm in being thorough. The Penny Priestess commends the taste of the previous house owners in choosing pennies over clunky horseshoes or garish hex signs. It may be that the household gods—Penny Penates—are wailing for the loss of their treasure. Given that possibility, the Penny Priestess is in favor of restoring the pennies.

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My last name is Penny. Am I lucky or is it insignificant? I also have a business using my name. I’m trying to come up with a catchy logo—any ideas? It’s a service business.

Of course you’re lucky: it’s a lovely name. Think of the poor unfortunates who have to go through life with names like Skoggs or Crapley or Borenschlosser. You are not so lucky, however, that people are going to fall over themselves offering you free marketing consultations. Besides, if you took a close look at the website, you would recognize that graphic design is not the Penny Priestess’ forte.

 

MORE from the Penny Priestess’ correspondence with the penny puzzled and the penny curious.

OR JUST PICK A PENNY AND TRY YOUR LUCK!