A Bad Penny?

What’s the origin of the phrase “bad penny”. It’s used in reference to someone/something coming back into your life, like you keep coming back like a bad penny. Were there ever bad pennies? Wouldn’t think a copper slug could be easily counterfeited…and if so, why would anyone counterfeit a penny?


Thanks, Telemark! That’ll teach me to not search the dope hard enough! Sorry!

Just to note that a penny was once worth a fair amount. I recall reading one quote that someone with an income under 800 pence/year was “poor”. So if you had a thruppence a day, you were reasonably well off. So pennies were worth counterfeiting. I have no idea if this is where the phrase comes from.

Since the question has kinda been answered, here’s something to listen to while you read on. Bad Penny from the late, great Rory Gallagher.

It never occurred to me that it would be anything else but a metaphor for a counterfeit coin that kept coming back even after it had been successfully unloaded onto someone else.

Even in the USA, in my lifetime, a penny (one cent coin) was worth something, I bought a Mickey Mantle rookie card for a penny, and got a piece of bubble gum along with it.

Now, it is an interesting challenge to find something that you can buy for a quarter, the largest coin in everyday circulation. Aside from something sold by weight (like a grape in the produce department), I’ve only found one thing you can buy and present a quarter in payment and get change – hypodermic insulin syringes at WalMart are (last time I checked) 21c. They’ll sell you just one. And they even have moving parts!

When I was a boy at school we had pennies equal to one 240th of a GBP. We also had halfpennies (pronounced hayp’ny) and farthings (half and a quarter of a penny respectively). In the school tuck shop there was a fair selection of halfpenny swets, but only one kind of small sweet at a farthing each.

Farthings were very small and had a cute picture of a robin on the face.

Coincidentally, a GBP was worth $2.40 that is 240 cents at the time so a British penny was equal to an American Cent

Fairly sure it was a wren, not a robin…

They weren’t legal currency by the time I went to school, but the tuck shop (and some confectioners) still had a 4-a-penny tray, together with the ha’penny and penny trays…