October 14, 2012

Some pennies more valuable than you think


---- — I’m old, but it doesn’t take much to get me started. A word or phrase sends me to my keyboard. Today, it was “penny.” 

For many of you, it is rapidly losing its relevance, and some would be thrilled if it weren’t made any more. Our neighbors up in Canada have already made that decision. 

Kaye and I are old school. We pick up pennies from the sidewalk. If they are “heads up” — even better. There is an old rhyme: “See a penny, pick it up and all day long you’ll have good luck.” In my pocket, I carry a half-dozen battered pennies. In some obtuse way, I feel sorry for them.

I have pennies squished on railroad tracks and pennies with my name on them from tourist locations. I have collections of pennies (and just about everything else). I have the steel pennies coated with zinc made in 1943 when copper for the war effort was scarce. I have one that is mottled copper and zinc and dream that it could be worth a fortune. Fat chance.

I have walked across the Ha’ Penny bridge in Dublin, Ireland. I can quote the “Hot Cross Buns” lyrics and the word “penny” in them. I can sing “Pop Goes the Weasel” with its penny for a spool of thread and can make you think I know the difference between that kind of weasel and the ones on my river bank. I have owned penny loafers and can play a penny whistle. I have offered people a penny for their thoughts. I believe that some pennies come from heaven and have dropped hundreds in machines at penny arcades. I paid a pretty penny for this computer and believe in the phrase “In for a penny, in for a pound.” I try to pinch pennies and know people who always turn up, like a bad penny.

None of that qualifies me as a penny expert, but it underlines my quest to know a little about a lot of things. That brings me to Shirley Coffey. Years ago, her husband, Dick, died and I wrote a story for my first book of ghostly tales about how he left her posthumous sticky notes and pennies. It’s a wonderful love story.

Serendipity brought us together again at a local doctor’s office. After offering an addendum to her ghost story, she said someone had given her a small packet of seven penny postcards, mostly dating from the first decade of the 20th century and all featuring photos of downtown Plattsburgh and the former Plattsburgh Barracks on what we call the “Old Base.”

One shows the original Officer’s Club long before the one I helped to build in the 1950s. Another is a 1907 view of buildings on the west side of the so-called “Old Base Oval.” There is a picture, described as the “State Normal School,” destroyed by a huge fire and replaced by what is now Hawkins Hall. I like the colored picture of Plattsburgh’s Champlain Monument published by Levy Brothers in Plattsburgh (without the “H”). A 1908 photo of “Margaret Street, Looking South” shows the Witherill House, the Cumberland House and St. John’s Church before the age of automobiles.

The last two for me are precious. One of them, printed in Great Britain, shows the fabulous Fouquet House, part of which still exists on Bridge Street. I have seen a stereoscopic version of it taken in 1860. Believe it or not. Across the street was and is the D&H Train station, identified on the penny postcard as “The Depot, Plattsburg, N.Y.” It is replete with two trolley cars along with several horses and carriages, no doubt used in that day as taxis. Minus the trolleys and horse-drawn vehicles, it looks much the same today.

Jingling in my pocket with the pathetic pennies are two trolley tokens that I cherish.

And Shirley wrote a message for me in her little care package. It is on a sticky note.

Save your pennies. Some are more valuable than you might think.

Have a great October day and please, drive carefully.

Gordie Little was for many years a well-known radio personality in the North Country and now hosts the “Our Little Corner” television program for Home Town Cable. Anyone with comments for him may send them to the newspaper or email him at