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Almanac: Penny Saved Is Penny Spurned; Try a 12 1/2-Cent ‘Bit’ Instead

JERRY HARKAVYSeptember 7, 1988

LEWISTON, Maine (AP) _ The Farmers’ Almanac expects to see a little less snow and a lot less drought next year, but what the 172-year-old digest of Americana really wants to see less of is pennies.

The penny, inspiration for homely expressions that have been a staple of almanacs since Benjamin Franklin set up shop - ″A penny saved is a penny earned″ is one - has outlived its usefulness, concludes the 1989 edition of the Farmer’s Almanac.

″Only tradition explains our stubborn attachment to the penny. But sometimes traditions get ridiculous,″ the almanac says, living down its reputation as a defender of long-held values.

Instead, editor Ray Geiger has proposed a new coin worth 12 1/2 cents, or one ″bit.″

″I can’t think of anything you can buy with a penny. The penny candy is all a nickel,″ said Geiger, who with varying degrees of success has led the publication’s previous campaigns to restore city names to postmarks, eliminate the nine-digit ZIP code and print currency in colors other than green.

″You see a penny on the street and you no longer bother to pick it up,″ and young children often find it’s no longer worth their time and effort to empty jars of pennies and package them in 50-cent rolls, Geiger said in a recent interview.

Also in the newly released edition is a prediction for another ″cold and mean″ winter, but not as rough as the last one, with a little less snow in the Midwest and the Rockies.

The summer of 1989 should be more pleasant, with drier than average weather but no repeat of this year’s drought, according to Geiger. ″We didn’t predict the drought, but neither did anybody else,″ he said.

But what really gets Geiger heated up is the persistence of the penny, whose purchasing power has diminished to the point where its only uses are making change and collecting sales taxes, according to the almanac.

The almanac’s plan for the bit - a name derived from ″two bits,″ the colloquial expression for a quarter - takes into account the change in monetary values.

″This perceives the dollar as being cut into eight equal pieces, half a dollar is four bits, 75 cents is six bits,″ the almanac said. It points out that while U.S. money is based on the decimal system, stock markets routinely list prices in increments of one-eighth of a dollar.

The U.S. Mint churns out billions of pennies each year, and the almanac suggests that as many as 200 billion of the coins may be squirreled away in vaults, baby banks, cookie jars and shoe boxes.

The almanac says the introduction of the bit would bridge the gap between the dime and the quarter, for greater flexibility in coin combinations that would produce 22 1/2 cents, 27 1/2 cents and so forth, all the way up to 97 1/2 cents.

To promote the idea, the almanac suggests a gold-toned coin that would be about as thick as a dime, midway in size between the nickel and the quarter.

The Treasury Department declined to embrace the recommendation, saying there has been no groundswell of support for a change.

″We’ve periodically examined the penny, and right now the department has no plans to eliminate it. It’s still an integral part of the coinage system,″ said spokeswoman Felice Pelosi.

Undaunted, Geiger said he was prepared to travel to Washington to solicit support for the change.

″Some people will think this is a nutty idea, but they thought it was a nutty idea to bring back the old postmark, and that was a singlehanded victory for the Farmers’ Almanac,″ he said.

Geiger’s almanac, which is sold to banks, insurance companies and other businesses for distribution to customers as a promotion, claims a circulation of more than 5 million.

Its 48 pages are a compendium of calendar data, household hints, one-line jokes, inspirational messages, recipes and, of course, weather predictions derived through a secret formula by the almanac’s forecaster, Caleb Weatherbee.

Geiger, who turns 78 this month, is marking his 55th year as almanac editor, a tenure he says ties the record established by the original editor of the Old Farmers Almanac, a New Hampshire-based publication founded in 1792.

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