Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Pressed Pennies: The 51 Cent Souvenir

Photographs by Nicole Holt

When I was growing up, creating pressed coins was merely a way to pass time while visiting my parent's friends in a remote California town. We'd place an assortment of coins on the nearby train tracks, go back to the house and wait to hear the train bell which let us know that our mutated currency was nearly done. At the time I had no idea that people actually collected pressed coins.

It was years after removing these smashed coins from the sides of the tracks that I would learn of the more controlled method of pressing coins between steel rollers which imparted embossed designs into the finished product. Surprisingly enough, this is a fairly old technique, dating back at least as far as the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition.

Once I became aware of the pressed penny machines, it seemed like I couldn't turn around without seeing one of them. For 50 cents plus a penny, the machine squish the penny into an oblong shape and emboss it with a design inspired by the destination. Occasionally I would take part of this activity, inserting my coins, pressing a button, watching the gears turn and and enjoying the little clink at the end as it popped out my freshly squeezed souvenir.

As with most things in one's childhood, I quickly forgot about all the pennies that I had smashed until about 5 years ago when I started dating the woman who is now my wife. She started collecting pressed pennies from the places we visited, and we started keeping an eye out for the machines wherever we went. Slowly the pile of smashed coins began to grow, full of the places that we've shared.

Some of these coins have special meaning such as the three pictured below. We found my wife's engagement ring in Seattle, we moved to the greater Boston area and we spent our honeymoon in Savannah.

We are casual collectors of elongated coins, but there are people who take this hobby much more seriously. eBay is full of people selling elongated coins, and people also trade full sets of coins from a given machine, which are generally offer 4 different designs.

Discussion groups like the one at The Elongated Collector popped to connect those that share the passion for mutating coins for 50 cents. Websites selling coins such as and were established to sell coins from far off places. Disneyland even emptied it's Penny Arcade and filled it with machines to press coins.

I can see the appeal of collecting these with gusto, but I am happy with the casual nature that my wife and I have with collecting elongated coins.

The next time you see one of those elongated coin machines begging for your loose change on your travels, consider trying it out. You'll have a tiny piece of art to remind you of your journey, and it might even spark an obsession.

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  1. I have seen these machines and I think my kids have put a penny in a few themselves. I was wondering though, do you and Nicole have an interesting way to display them? Like in a bowl on a coffee table or framed? I think these types of keepsakes are special but just wondering of unique ways to display. We collect corks from wine bottles we have drunk, sometimes penning the date and celebration on the cork, but we have yet to disply them. They are in a huge bowl in my cupboard.

  2. Oh I forgot to add, I finally did a post on Restaurant Depot, the restaurant supply store. Thanks for the suggestion, it was a fun post to write!

  3. Hello,
    I love pressed pennies. I got to first know them when I visited the States with my mum. She goes around cranking the pennies. I love them and there is none in Singapore. Singaporeans sure missed out the fun in pressing pennies... until now....I decided to bring a machine in! :D
    If any of you happened to come to Singapore, be sure to crank out from Singapore's one and only pressed penny machine. You can order them online too if it's not possible to crank them yourselves. For more info, please visit

  4. Hi there,
    DO you trade or sell elongated coins, do please contact me at