See a penny

I don’t believe that I am particularly superstitious. On a scale of 0 to 100, with 0 being “not in the least” and 100 the score of your average major league baseball player on a hot streak of wins/at-bats, I doubt I crack the low end of the scale. I don’t think twice about walking under ladders. I love black cats—years ago, one crossed my path when I was on my way to take a linear algebra exam, and I aced said exam easy-peasy. Friday the 13th is just another day.

Pick it up

I’ve broken mirrors, spilled salt, and opened umbrellas indoors, all without a second thought. But there’s one superstition that has settled in several years ago, unpacked its bags, and made itself at home. When I see a penny on the ground, I pick it up.

All daylong

Well, actually, I usually pick it up. My only condition is that the penny has to be face-up. At one time I heard or read that if it’s tail-side up, all the luck has run out. So if it’s heads, it’s mine. Tails, and I pass it by.

I don’t know why this became my quirk. Rational Me knows that it makes no sense, that the existence and orientation of a stray zinc coin washed with copper can have no influence on my life. I understand that existence is one uncertainty after another, and the need to quell the fear that this can inspire, to seek order in a disordered world, can lead me to find meaning in meaningless events. So, I know what I’m doing, why I’m doing it, and why it makes no sense. And I do it anyway.

You’ll have good luck

From this point on, maybe I’ll start doing what some variations of the story behind the superstition describe, and turn over the pennies that are tails-side up so that someone else to have the luck. I could also dig more deeply into the history of this and other superstitions and use the information in stories.

And I will probably continue to collect pennies I find in the street. As long as they’re face-up.

If you’re curious, here’s an article with short histories of common Western superstitions, and one with more information about the penny legend.

Posted in Culture Tagged permalink

About Kristine Smith

Kristine Smith is the author of the Jani Kilian series and a number of SF and fantasy short stories, and is a winner of the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. She worked as a pharmaceutical process development scientist for 26 years, but now writes full-time. She also writes supernatural thrillers under the name Alex Gordon. Check out her BVC bookshelf


Superstitions — 7 Comments

  1. I had heard about the tails up/bad luck aspect, but it never occurred to me that I could contribute to someone’s else’s good luck by turning the coin over and leaving it for someone else to find. That is just lovely, and thank you for pointing it out!

    • You’re welcome–I only learned about it last night, while doing some last-minute research for this post. I am going to start doing it as well.

  2. That rhyme always bugged me, because it doesn’t.

    Funny thing though, I’d tend to pick up pennies for a different reason (well, aside from the “oooh—shiny! aspect). It’s an old saying my mother used to repeat: those who do not value the penny are not worthy of the dollar.

    Yep, it is strange the things that get embedded in our psyches. We don’t have pennies in our currency anymore. But I still do have a stash of them hidden in my closet. I always collected the oldest ones…

    • I still recall the time when I had to dig the pennies out of an old pair of loafers to pay for a pound of ground beef. Yup, they’re real money.

      Funny, the memories that continue to influence us years later.

      I look for the pennies with the wheat in the back.

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