There you are, walking along the street and minding your own business. You’re deep in thought about the kinds of thoughts kids usually think about: school, homework, practice, and friends. You’re not paying much attention to where you’re going, since your head is down and your eyes are focused on the pavement.
Some people believe it’s only good luck to pick up a penny if heads is showing. A penny with the tails side up should be turned over for another person to find. On the other hand, many people believe any penny you find is good luck. You may hear people repeat a common rhyme to this effect: "Find a penny, pick it up. All day long, you'll have good luck."
What do you think? Do you believe in either of these superstitions? Do you know anyone who does? Have you ever had a friend or family member tell you not to pick up a penny if tails is showing? How did these beliefs get started?
Long, long ago, many ancient people believed that metals, including the copper that was used to make pennies, were gifts from the gods. They thought that these metals were given to them by the gods for their protection.
If you found metal, you should definitely pick it up, since it would protect you and bring you good luck. This is probably where the belief that finding a penny is lucky came from. Of course, pennies also have value — not much, but some! — so people probably also believed that finding a penny was lucky because it increased your wealth, even if only by one cent!
Long ago, people also believed that there was a constant battle between the forces of good and evil. Things were often viewed in one of two ways: either good or bad. Thus, one side of a coin (heads) came to be associated with good, which meant that the other side (tails) must be evil or unlucky.
Of course, many people pick up tails-up pennies every day without being befallen with bad luck. Still, this belief continues to persist. For fun, try putting a penny tails-up on the sidewalk and see how many people will walk by it without picking it up!
The idea that pennies bring luck carried over into other traditions. For example, there’s a saying that many brides know: “Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue, and a lucky penny in the shoe.” These are supposedly the things a bride needs to wear to make sure good luck shines on her wedding and marriage.
In the future, pennies may continue to be lucky if only because they’re rare and not used any more. Today, a penny is still worth one hundredth of one dollar. But one cent doesn’t buy you much these days. In fact, some people claim that the cost of producing, handling and counting penny coins costs more than they’re worth.
This has led some legislators to recommend that the United States stop making pennies and instead make the nickel or the dime the lowest denomination coins. Other countries, including Australia and New Zealand, have already made this change (pun totally intended!).