What are Elongated Coins?
Elongated coins (ECs) are created by flattening coins under high pressure and impressing designs upon one or both sides of the coin during the process. Commonly known as smashed pennies, elongateds are part of numismatics, under the category of exonumia.
When people talk about smashing pennies, they are usually thinking about putting coins on railroad tracks. But most likely you have seen penny machines in souvenir shops on your last family vacation, at the museums on field trips, or even at highway rest areas during bathroom breaks. Inside these machines are steel rollers, creating around 20 tons of pressure, to turn your pocket change pennies into oval shaped keepsakes.
Why Collect Elongated Coins?
Collecting elongated coins is one of the most fascinating hobbies.
There are literally thousands of coin machines across the United States and abroad. Since machines are placed at high traffic locations, it is usually a good indicator of how popular an attraction is if you’re not familiar with the town. Elongateds are also inexpensive. Pennies usually cost around 50c to press (museums in Washington DC charges $1 to press each penny, since the admission is free,) making them the cheapest souvenirs you’ll find in most places. Note that in Europe, however, pressing coins cost a bit more… usually the equivalent of $2 or more, depending on the exchange rate. Something to keep in mind when budgeting your next vacation across the ocean. Even with these great advantages, collecting EC still makes an extensive hobby and can keep you happily engaged for many years to come.
The hobby was greatly propelled by Dottie Dow in the 1960s. Dottie Dow published The Elongated Collector: An Illustrated Check List of Elongated Coins in 1965. A year later, she founded a non-profit organization by the same name (or TEC). Both helped attracted new hobbyists from the numismatic world.
Before Leaving Your Home
Rolling Your Coins
The Back of Your Elongateds – under construction
Short Rolls Long Rolls – under construction
Organizing Your Collection
Getting More from the Hobby
Buying and Selling – What’s it Worth?
Involving Friends and Family – under construction
Before Leaving Your Home
Preparing the Right Change
The best type of coins to press are copper pennies.
In 1982, the US Mint changed the penny composition to copper plated zinc (97.5% zinc and 2.5% copper). From the outside, these coins do not look much different. But when you press copper plated zinc pennies, the elongated effect exposes the zinc material. Zinc oxidizes to a black color and is very difficult to clean, therefore most collectors shunt zinc elongateds.
If you live close to a coin dealer, you can purchase Brilliant Uncirculated (BU) rolls for pressing use. BU is a numismatics grade, which means the coins have never been used. However, this can get expensive fast. Even at $2 a roll, which is a real bargain for the most common years, the cost adds up.
Another way to stock up on copper pennies is to look through pocket change or bank rolls. On average, 10% of the pennies found in your pocket change would be dated pre-1982. So if you’re going somewhere that has many machines, such as Walt Disney World which has over 400 designs available, it’s wise to plan ahead.
A bank box of pennies can be obtained for $25 – and, yes, you will get 2,500 coins. This roughly equates to around 10 hours or sorting, if performed by a single person looking only for pre- versus post- 1982 mint date. After separating out the copper coins, you can use your favorite way of cleaning copper before storing them away for a pressing day. Note that it is crucial to clean the coins before you press them, as the pressure from the roller will make any dirt more difficult to clean afterwards. Also, any coloring resulting from using coarse agent (think ketchup, vinegar, Coke, etc., the stuff you keep at arms length from your 1909-S VDB) will be nearly invisible after pressing. See Cleaning Elongateds for ways to clean your copper coins.
How do I know if an elongated is pressed on zinc or copper?
Once stretched, it’s difficult to tell the original penny date. If you look carefully at the EC, however, you can see silver color streaks on zinc ECs. Usually it is easier to see from the back, but sometimes you can see on the front of the EC, shadowing the design. If the elongated is old, the silver streaks turn into black streaks.
What should I do with the zinc elongateds then?
It’s inevitable to have zincs in your collection, especially if you get them as gifts. Your friends may not know the differences and bring you back some really nice coins from their vacations.
Truthfully, if you store your coins well, zinc ECs are just as nice as copper ECs. Make a note on the zincs in your collection and replace them with copper coins if you get a chance.
Is there any drawback to using copper pennies?
Zinc is a softer material and stretches longer. So if you find your presses coming out short, and if it’s important to you to get the full design, you may want to use a zinc penny.
What about other penny compositions?
Pennies minted between 1909 and 1962 have a bronze mix, with the exception of 1943 which is the only year that the US made steel pennies. (By the way, if you come across a 1943 bronze penny, you should DEFINITELY not press that one. Go cash it in at your local coin shop instead.) Bronze elongateds and copper elongateds are almost indistinguishable and steel makes it difficult to get a full roll.
How about Canadian pennies?
Canadian pennies work well with machines in the United States. The advantage of using Canadian coins is that the composition didn’t change until 1997, making BU rolls cheaper if your local dealer stocks them.
There are also quarter, nickel, and dime machines. There is no guiding rule for these types of machine, so use your pocket change. There are silver alternatives to the copper-nickel clad for quarters and dimes. Pre-1964 quarters and dimes are made with 90% silver.
Although you can find elongated dollars, those are usually specially made and not available to the public.
Is it worth it to press silver quarters and dimes?
Here’s how you calculate the approximate silver value in coins:
- Quarters: price of silver per ounce x 0.18 (at $15 per ounce, a silver quarter is worth around $2.70)
- Dimes: price of silver per ounce x 0.07 (at $15 per ounce, a silver dime is worth around $1)
Most likely you’ll spend more than the silver value to purchase the coins from the coin dealer. When you press a silver quarter or dime, its value drops to nothing to non-collectors. In conclusion, it should be a really special design when you choose to use silver composites.
As always, remember to bring enough quarters to feed the machines. You can always get change when you get there, but even a single 4-design machine will take $2 worth of quarters and many shop attendants aren’t willing to give you more than that.
Map Out Your Route
When you’re traveling to somewhere new, for either business or pleasure, do some research on the area. Almost all zoos have penny machines, so do many chains. The following is a list of chain stores a elongated collector may count on:
- Rain Forest Cafe – Usually there is at least one 4-die penny machine in the gift shop. Penny designs generally consists of Happy Frog and other rain forest animals with the name of the city. Certain locations, such as the Las Vegas branch, has more elaborate designs. Avoid generic designs with no location names, as they are more difficult to trade.
- Bass Pro Shops – Like the RFC, almost all Bass Pro Shops include one or more 4-die penny machine. Most penny designs are unique, however, and it is possible to figure out which chain store the coin was pressed without the telling location text on the coin.
- Cabela’s – Cabela’s used to have a couple of single-die electronic machines, both with the same design. One is normally placed in the food court while the other is elsewhere on the first floor of the store. The stores may be changing this policy, however. I’ve been to a few chains where there is only one machine. Technically, even with the same design, there are small differences in the engraving. As a hardcore elongated collector, you should press both. But don’t count on your trading partner wanting both designs.
- Ripley’s Believe It or Not – There are not as many Ripley’s as RFC or BPS. When you come across a Ripley’s museum though, always inquire within if there is a penny machine. The machine, if they have one, may be inside the museum. Work up the courage to ask an attended if they can press the coins for you. Charisma is a must if you’re an EC collector who wants to save on entrance fees.
- Disney’s – I list Disney here, sort of as a joke. Disney’s theme parks are gold mines for pressed coins. Doesn’t matter if it’s Disneyland, Walt Disney World, Disneyland Pairs, Tokyo Disneyland, DisneySea, or Hong Kong Disneyland, there is a wealth of machines wherever you go (okay, maybe not Disneyland Paris… but the theory applies everywhere else.) There are collectors, and non-collectors, who dedicates to Disney themed ECs. So load up with copper pennies and quarters whenever you’re in the vicinity.
- Six Flags & Sea World – Speaking of theme parks, both Six Flags and Sea World have machines scattered throughout their parks. Unfortunately, there are less dedicated sites to tracking the on-stage, off-stage, retirement progress of these machines. Sometimes even finding out exact machine locations may be difficult. Take a map and look through all nooks and crannies. Returning for that one or two pennies you missed will always cost more.
Aside from the chains mentioned above, ask around to see if other collectors know of any machine locations. Use the “traveling salesman” technique to find our optimal route. Map things out ahead of time, as you may not have access to this information when you leave home.
Rolling Your Coins
The Back of Your Elongateds
EC designs are generally on one side. Two-sided ECs are called mules.
There are a few things you can do with the empty back of an elongated:
- Heads – Show the date. Private rolls sometimes have stained backs to show the dates of the pennies. Some collectors prefer to see the dates (stained or unstained) because that ensures the coin is pressed on copper. However, the majority either has no preference or prefers a clean coin altogether.
- Tails – Show the reverse. The Lincoln Memorial leaves grooves on the design. So this preference is more for the front of the EC than for the back. If I happen to press a Wheat Back penny, I also make sure the reverse is showing. Most people do not know the significance of pre-1959 pennies, but they can appreciate the difference in the reverse design.
Which way do I place the penny?
Whichever side that faces the quarters when the penny is placed into the machine slot should be the side that the front design gets rolled onto. This works for the majority of the machines out there, but always tests your rolls if you’re unsure.
Organizing Your Collection
If you collected Lincoln Cents, or Indian Head and Flying Eagle pennies, you would undoubtedly get the advice to never ever clean your penny collection. Regarding elongated coins, I am of mixed opinions. On the one hand, cleaning elongated coins will definitely reduce the value of your coins. Microscopic details of the design and coating given by the roller on the reverse will be damaged when you clean your coins. However, it is also nearly impossible to make a profit from selling ECs, so you’re reducing the value of your coin from not-a-whole-lot to closer-to-nothing-than-before in the eye of a non-collector. So, go ahead and clean the coins if it makes you happy.
There are many ways to clean copper. I use salt and vinegar because it’s fast, cheap, and easy. Just put your copper coins in a salt and vinegar solution, swirl it around for a couple of minutes, and rinse out the coins. If you want to exact recipe, I heard that ¼ cup of white vinegar plus 1 teaspoon of salt is what school kids are using in their oxidation experiment.
Why is there an orange-pink color on the cleaned pennies?
Can’t be helped. Fast, cheap, and easy do have drawbacks. Some people rub the cleaned pennies with a baking soda paste to get a more Brilliant Uncirculated look.
Clean before or after pressing?
Personally, I always clean my copper pocket change and never clean my pressed coins. Here are the reasons behind it:
1) Some stains are difficult to clean. Certain grease or dirt spots just can’t be removed. If you clean your round copper pennies, you can take out these unpressables and put them back into circulation. It’s difficult to tell the difference between an EC pressed on a BU penny or a properly cleaned penny.
2) A pressed coin will never look new even if you wear out your elbow in the polishing process. Literally tons of pressure was applied in pressing the grease and dirt into the coin. That’s hard to beat…
What are some of the other cleaning methods?
Since copper oxide dissolves in weak acid solution, vinegar and salt may be substituted with lemon and salt or ketchup. You can also use ready-made copper polish sold in the stores, such as Brasso or Tarn-X. Out of the two products mentioned, I prefer Brasso. It’s what I use on my copper cookware and leaves a better look than Tarn-X.
What about non-copper elongateds?
Don’t worry about cleaning elongated nickels, dimes, or quarters. It’s possible to polish your collection if you have many silver pieces, but in general there isn’t much to fuss over non-copper pieces.
You can store your pressed coins just about anywhere, but if you don’t have a system you’ll have a hard time building and keeping track of your collection.
The general consensus is that 2×2 coin holders are the best way to keep individual coins. A 2×2 holder is a piece of cardboard that folds over to a two-inch by two-inch size. In the middle, there is a clear window on each side to show the front and back of the coin. There are 2×2 holders that are specially designed with an oval opening. If you cannot find those, most coins will also fit in a 2×2 for the larger dollar coins.
The holder is kept together by four staples, one on each side.
I strongly recommend investing in a good stapler. Imagine going on a vacation where you find 6 or 7 four-die machines, which is a reasonable bounty number. When you get back home, you’ll be putting in over 100 staples for this one trip. This isn’t something most people think about, but you’ll feel the impact to your wrist if you don’t use an ergonomically designed stapler.
Also consider purchasing a flat-clinch back stapler. The flat staples will make your 2x2s easier to store, regardless if whether you’re storing them in binder pages or in boxes.
Getting More from the Hobby
Trading with Other Collectors
Trading is a great way to expand your collection. The first step to trading is to press extras to add to your trade stock. Most people prefer full sets from each location, ones that do not include many generics. Keep in mind to press all your traders on copper. Make a list of these coins and maybe a note that includes local machines you have access to and future planned trips.
How many extra sets should I press?
That depends… If you’re walking down Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco, you may not want to press any extras at all. There are over a hundred designs in San Francisco, so you’ll be spending a fortune making a set for yourself. Not to mention that everyone prefers to press their own coins if they can, and San Francisco is a popular designation. On the other hand, if you find yourself in Boise, Idaho, press 3 or 4 sets. Those will go quickly.
What are generics?
These are generic designs, usually “I Love You + city name” or “My Lucky Penny + city name”. Lord’s Prayer and unicorns are in this category too. They don’t provide information on where the coins were pressed.
Join an elongated coin group (Yahoo! Groups has a great gathering with over 1000 members) or The Elongated Collectors to get in touch with other collectors. Once you have the trade list ready and someone to trade with, establish a trade ratio. For most cases, it’s a penny for a penny, a quarter for a quarter, etc.
Generally, a copper penny trades for two zinc ones, one retired coin trades for three to four current ones, and a foreign EC trades for five to six domestic ones. But trade ratio is whatever you two can agreed with. For trades, you and the person you trade with mail out the coins at the same time. Send an email to let the other person know that the coins arrived safely.
Buying and Selling – What’s it Worth?
Even after fifteen years of EC collecting, I only have one book on the subject – Yesterday’s Elongateds by Lee Martin and Dottie Dow. I purchased the first edition with an inscription by Lee Martin: “To Richard Tourserd. Dedicated collector, fellow TEC, member and friend. Best Wishes, Lee Martin”
There are a few more books I would like to track down and add to the library. A quick search of current pricing included, when available:
* The Elongated Collector, by Dottie Dow
* Today’s Elongateds, by Lee Martin
* Yesterday’s Elongateds, by Lee Martin and Dottie Dow, 2nd Edition
* Encyclopedia of the Modern Elongated, by Angelo A. Rosato ($175)
* Rerolls – Restrikes, by Angelo A. Rosato ($30)
* Evaluating Elongated Coins, by Angelo A. Rosato ($15)
* Supplement to the Encyclopedia of the Modern Elongated, by Angelo A. Rosato
Lee and Dow provided a pricing guide in their book, Yesterday’s Elongateds. As the book was published in 1981, the rarity level would correspond to these prices in today’s price:
|1981 Price Range||2014 Price Range|
|R1||.50 – $3||$1.31 – $7.86|
|R2||$3.01 – $6||$7.87 – $15.72|
|R3||$6.01 – $12.00||$15.73 – $31.44|
|R4||$12.01 – $20.00||$31.45 – $52.40|
|R5||$20.01 – $35.00||$52.41 – 491.70|
|R6||$35.01 – $50.00||$91.71 – $131.00|
|R7||over $50.||over $131|