“Can She Bake A Cherry Pie, Billy Boy, Billy Boy”

What can a holed 1838 large cent have in common with an obscure 19th century musical ditty? There actually is a slight connection, as you’ll see. I have owned the coin in question longer than I can remember, purchased from a junk-box at a coin show decades ago. I bought it for a dollar or two as I assumed it was a substitute gear from some long-ago machinery, made perhaps by an enterprising person to fix a machine that had broken down. It made good sense to me for years, but then I had an epiphany – the soft copper would be torn to shreds by the brass or steel gears of a machine, and the edge scallops on the coin were free of wear. What then was my 1838 cent used for if not a machine gear?

Fast forward decades. One day on a bourse floor at a major coin show, I came across a table that was chock-full of neat exonumia items, including one that immediately caught my eye. It was a holed large cent with a “gear” edge, but it was attached to an obviously old and well-worn wooden handle contraption with a central axle for the coin to revolve around. I inquired after the item and was told it was a pie crimper that would make a fancy design around the edge of a pie before baking. I didn’t buy the crimper, but it enlightened me as to just what my holed large cent was and how it was used. I now own more than one of these holed “gear” cents, but this first one, the 1838, is my favorite by far. And, as the old ditty goes: “She can bake a cherry pie faster than a man can wink his eye, but she’s a young thing and cannot leave her mother.” I wonder if she used a large cent pie crimper.


Next time around we’ll show you how to change a half dollar into a large cent.

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