Lucky Penny Day
Other Scottish Country Dances for this Day
Today's Musings, History & Folklore
"See a penny, pick it up,
And all the day you'll have good luck."
Finding a penny (with or without the bluish-green "verdigris" patina of age) and picking it up is a relatively new spin on an old superstition. Long ago, people believed that metal was a gift from the gods, given to man for protection against evil. The legacy of this belief can be still seen in the practice of hanging horseshoes over doorways, the wearing of charm bracelets, and the carrying good luck coins to act as "touch pieces," coins or metal tokens used as talismans to cure disease, bring good luck, or influence people's behaviour. Many historical touch piece coins were treasured by the recipients and sometimes remained in the possession of families for many generations, such as the 14th century "Lee Penny" made from a triangular-shaped dark red stone obtained by Sir Simon Lockhart from the Holy Land whilst on a crusade. Set in an Edward I groat, this special token is still held by the family and has a reputation for being able to cure rabies, hemorrhage, and various animal ailments. This coin was exempted from the Church of Scotland's prohibition on charms and was lent to the citizens of Newcastle during the reign of King Charles I (1625-1649) to protect them from the plague. The Lee Penny also provided inspiration for elements in Sir Walter Scott's 1825 novel The Talisman.
Today, on lucky penny day, keep an eye out for spare change. It could bring you luck.
Variations on the following luck rhyme exist (including whether or not the penny is face down or face up), but the traditional rhyme is usually recited:
"Find a penny, pick it up
All the day you’ll have good luck
See a penny, let it lay
Bad luck will follow you all day"
The original phrase was "see a pin and pick it up and all day long you'll have good luck." This was a reference to a pagan ritual in which a pin could be used in a good luck spell. The myth was that a dropped pin might have been used in such a spell and would provide good luck to the person who found it.
The word “penny” goes all the way back to Old English pening and has relatives in Germanic languages, such as German (Pfennig), Swedish (penning), and Icelandic (peningur). The original British penny was worth 1/240th of a pound sterling (now it is 1/100th of a pound). When the first United States one-cent coin was minted in 1793, people continued to use the British term to refer to it.
The 1915 British penny is part of the George V series of pennies produced from 1910-1936. Made of bronze, approximately 47 million were minted.
Interestingly, it is the 1933 penny that is the greatest British numismatic rarity of the 20th century – only seven coins were minted, specifically for the king to lay under the foundation stones of new buildings; one of these coins was stolen when a church in Leeds was demolished in the 1960s, and its whereabouts is currently unknown. For more about the rare 1933 British penny, which would be a lucky find indeed, click its picture!