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Nickels and Dimes. Quarters.

By July 8, 2020 No Comments

This morning I read that a Harvard-based expert in epidemiology and public health has described the pandemic in its current state as neither a surge nor a wave but a wildfire (https://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/933458?src=mkm_covid_update_200707_mscpedit_&uac=120163EN&impID=2450368&faf=1). Masks; handwashing; sanitizer; social distancing; you know the drill.

My beloved cousin Scott Dunfee – ELCA Lutheran pastor extraordinaire, recently retired after a long and distinguished career as a Navy chaplain – has begun a solo crusade of sorts in and around Portland, Oregon. Troubled by the low numbers of mask-wearers in grocery and big-box stores despite the presence of signs (and sometimes employees) requiring them, Scott has been talking with store managers and corporate executives about the situation. According to Scott, most of the store managers he’s talked with report having been told by “corporate” that they are not to push the wearing of masks for fear of losing shoppers. At the same time, the folks he’s talked with at this or that corporate HQ insist that store managers are acting on their own and that it’s safety first all the way. Seems like an issue a problem to me. Scott’s solution has been to go back to store managers to let them know that he’ll shop elsewhere if they don’t enforce the wearing of masks.

Here at Loyola, official policy is this: Masks. Exceptions: Lectors don’t wear masks when they’re reading. Music ministers don’t wear masks when they’re speaking or singing in the sanctuary. The presider doesn’t wear a mask when he’s presiding. Otherwise, masks.

Now for something really important. What’s your favorite currently-circulating United States coin? (current US coin because otherwise the thing would quickly become unmanageable. Which country? Which coin? Of what vintage? I’d choose, for example, the 1983 British pound sterling coin – you know, the one with Decus et Tutamen inscribed on the edge, Decus et Tutamen meaning, as every schoolchild knows, “an ornament and a safeguard” and intended to warn against and prevent the coin’s being clipped, although it’s unclear to me why someone would clip a coin that’s made of nickel-brass but there you are and the things some people will do). Anyway, let’s all choose our favorite US coin currently in circulation. Mine would be the quarter. But first, some obversations observations:

  • The penny. Yawn. Usefulness? Minimal, except as something to be placed on a railroad track and squashed by a speeding locomotive. Hasn’t been made of copper since 1837, despite there being untold numbers of American restaurants and bars called “The Copper Penny.” Currently zinc with a copper coating (97.5% zinc, 2.5% copper). Costs more than a penny to make. Not worth picking up, really, unless one were to come across a pile of 100 million of the things in which case I’d help. Uniquely among current US coins, the head on the obverse (for any pikers out there, the front) faces to the right, except that you-know-who on the NICKEL would be facing to the right except that you-know-who’s face is turned to the front which if you ask me is a little creepy.
  • Should we talk about the hysterical historical figures represented on our coins? Probably, but right now I’m under the gun to finish this and move on and besides not every difficult conversation has to happen at the same time. But for decades – and for once I’m not exaggerating – I thought the person on the dime was Harry Truman. Because, to my eyes, he looks more like Harry Truman than FDR.
  • The nickel. Made of 75% copper and 25% nickel, which means that a nickel has more copper in it than a penny does. So there. Weighs 5 grams, which is a gram for every cent. Slightly more compelling than the penny, only because it’s only since 1938 that the nickel has had you-know-who’s face on the obverse. Before that the nickel had the noble profile of an American Indian FACING TO THE RIGHT SO TAKE THAT ABRAHAM LINCOLN on the obverse (according to the artist the figure was a composite of three American Indians: Chief Iron Tail of the Oglala Lakota, Chief Two Moons of the Cheyenne, and Chief John Big Tree of the Kiowa) and a handsome buffalo (Bison bison) on the reverse.
  • The dime. Thin and hard to pick up. FDR on the obverse. Not Truman. Core of pure copper, clad with a candy coating of 75% copper and 25% nickel. From 1946 to 1964 the Roosevelt Dime was 90% silver, which if you find one of these dated 1964 and can manage to pick it up, HANG ON TO IT.
  • The noble quarter. You-know-who.1 on the obverse. Nice word to say: “quarter.” Try it, out loud. The perfect size for a coin. Nice heft. Feels like it belongs in your hand. Only takes four of them to make a dollar. Nice reeding on the edge. Before 1965, 90% silver (see above under “dime”). Now, not a bit of silver but pure copper, clad with 75% copper and 25% nickel. Same as the dime.
  • The 50-cent piece. JFK. A little disappointing, really. Coin itself named after a famous rapper but before he was born. Composition, 1971-present: See above under “dime” or “quarter.”
  • The dollar coin. Long and confusing history. Currently mostly Sacajawea on the obverse. Other versions currently minted but mostly too ridiculous to mention (American Innovation Dollars? Really?). Nice lady, Sacajawea. Helpful. In her arms she holds her child Jean Baptiste Charbonneau, also the son of her husband Toussaint Charbonneau. “Mr. T,” as he was called, was part of the Louis Lewis and Clarke Clark expedition. The most popular dollar coin among collectors is the beautiful Morgan Dollar (1878-1904 and again in 1921, which you’re mostly going to come across the 1921 Morgan Dollars which were minted in DENVER), 90% Ag with just a soupçon of Cu for that little zing. BTW, the first silver dollar I ever had was a 1921 Morgan Dollar given to me by my father who had just won it at a casino in Las Vegas where we had stopped for a little break on our way by automobile from California to see my grandparents in Tucson and where I, being quite a little boy and not allowed inside, had to wait outside on the sidewalk and so sat there on the curbing around a sidewalk tree obediently and quite contentedly MINDING MY OWN BUSINESS until an unpleasant older man later described by my mother as a BUSYBODY came along and told me not to sit there. So, not knowing what else to do, I stood up for the rest of the time. The unpleasant man moved along which it was a GOOD THING FOR HIM that he did because had he still been there when my mother and father came out of the casino he would have been GIVEN AN EARFUL by my mother. And possibly a punch in the nose by my father. Right in his old schnozz.
  • All of which is to say that whatever your favorite coin or coins may be, we’re BEYOND GRATEFUL for your GENEROSITY in giving some of them to Loyola, even in these whatever times (whatever = uncertain, trying, confusing, troubling, infuriating and whatever other adjectives you might like to add). That’s you, who are beloved in good times and bad. BELOVED.

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