When Thomas Daigle came up with the idea 35 years ago of paying off his mortgage in pennies, he thought he was joking. As it turns out, he was not. In April, he handed over two boxes, each weighing some 400 pounds and holding more than 31,000 pennies, to the Milford Federal Savings and Loan Association, making the last payment on the home that he and his wife bought when they married in 1977.
Daigle’s plan, while undoubtedly charming, maybe be even more ill-conceived than it first appears, for the value of each penny he collected at the start of his venture is almost twice that of the ones he collected at the end. In 1982, due in large part to an enormous rise in demand for copper in China (which was then electrifying its equally vast countryside), the United States changed the composition of its pennies from 100% copper to a mixture that had zinc as its main component (as of 2012, U.S. pennies are 97.5% zinc). The price of copper, meanwhile, has continued to rise, so that while the older pennies have increased in value, today’s penny is technically worth just 0.024 cents. On a side note: now zinc, too is becoming prohibitively expensive, with the average price shooting up from 35 cents a pound in 2002 to 63 cents a pound in 2005–due largely again to growing Chinese demand. Zinc is used in paints, in pharmaceuticals, and in galvanizing steel. // Patrick Barrett