“Put A Penny, Take A Penny”

We’ve all seen them in our favorite convenience store and elsewhere, those little plastic “put a penny, take a penny” trays next to the cash register. Your bill came to $2.01? Take a penny from the tray and pay the cashier. At your next stop the cost was $1.99; put that penny change in the tray for the next person who needs it. I first noticed these little “put ‘n take trays” perhaps 20 years ago as they sprang up around the country, and now they are an ever-present fixture at most stores in the land.

Actually, this relatively “new” practice is far older than I ever imagined, dating back at least to the 1930s judging by this week’s Exonumia Corner entry. I currently own two round green cardboard discs about 1.5 inches across, one with a Mint State 1936 Lincoln cent, and the other with a Mint State 1937 cent enclosed. The holders proclaim them to be a “PUT-A-PENNY COIN” in bold letters, made by the PUT-A-PENNY CO. of Rochester, New York, with patents in the U.S. and Canada. The dark green and white holders instruct the carrier to “INSERT ONE CENT” and to “RETURN TO STORE.” In this case the store was Muir Drug Stores, though the physical location of Muir Drugs is unknown to me. Were they for the purpose I imagined, or was there a store promotion involved? The backs of the pieces are blank. I have seen these in pink cardboard as well as in green, and with various merchants listed. No doubt a large collection of these “put a penny” pieces could be assembled by color and date, but for now I’m content with the two I own – unless, of course, I come across a pink specimen or a new merchant!

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