They will look the same feel (almost) the same, and even fit the same way into those few dispensers (such as gum and weight machines) that still generously accept pennies in this age of superinflation. But without seeking to second-guess the US Treasury, one must still ask whether the American people will quickly accept the proposed new US zinc penny, or whether the "zincies" will wind up hidden away in change drawers with those other recent government money issues -- the $2 bill and the Susan B. Anthony dollar.
In planning a conversion to zinc pennies from the present copper pennies sometime this summer, the folks at Treasury reckon that they'll save $50 million annually. The reason is that the price of copper has been steadily climbing, with the cost of the penny getting dangerously close to occasionally outpacing the face value of the coin --namely, one cent. The zinc penny, by contrast, will cost far less, with a much larger "seigniorage" (the difference between metal and production costs and face value).
Although the Bureau of the Mint can issue the new coin without congressional authorization, it is to be hoped that public opinion has been sufficiently tested (and found suffiently favorable), since more than 13 billion zinc pennies will be minted, joining the 35 billion to 40 billion copper coins now in circulation plus 100 billion or so salted away in desks, thrown on the mantel, or forgotten in that spare suit.
Zinc pennies were issued back in wartime and copper-short 1943. An the Treasury unsuccessfully tried to push an aluminum --yes, aluminum -- penny in 1974.
Meantime, one must admire the grit of the Mint, which is determined to salvage the publicly repudiated Susan B. Anthony dollar. Treasury officials say they are considering tinting the coins gold or brassish and replacing the eagle on the reverse side with a large "1" superimposed on an oak leaf cluster. N ow, about those pink $2 bills . . .