Smooshed Pennies

Just read the smooshed pennies letter in the mail bag:

I am under the impression that currency is federal property, and that regular people like me are prohibited from defacing/destroying it. Does anyone know if this is true, or just some hogwash that washed up on my shores?


Hm. One of my favorite time-wasters is a site that actually encourages defacement (such as it is) of U.S. currency:

According to the Bureau of Engraving and Printing:

Whoever mutilates, cuts, disfigures,
perforates, unites or cements together, or does any other thing to
any bank bill, draft, note, or other evidence of debt issued by any
national banking association, Federal Reserve Bank, or Federal
Reserve System, with intent to render such item(s) unfit to be
, shall be fined not more than $100 or imprisoned not more
than six months, or both…Defacement of currency in such a way that it is made unfit for
comes under the jurisdiction of the United States Secret

(Emphasis mine)

So if the penny is not intended to be returned to circulation – the photo in your link showed a flattened coin used as an earring – there is absolutely no problem.

Scratch, you beat me to it… but I got a different site, namely an earlier Staff Report:
Is it legal to put a hole in a quarter…

I just wanted to say:

“Nice lobe, Jill!”

Growing up in rural Montana, squishing pennies on the train tracks was big entertainment for us. Our belief that we were breaking the law made penny-squishing just that much more fun. I’m disappointed that it’s perfectly legal, but not suprised: here in San Francisco, there are vending machines that will restamp pennies into images of the Golden Gate bridge.

scratch1300, where does that site encourage defacing money? All I see is a database to track the serial number and its location.

In the report, Jill noted that an object as small as a penny would have little effect in derailing a train, that even a much-larger object such as a cow wouldn’t definitely do so, either.

So here’s a question. If you put a bullet on the train tracks, does the bullet become smooshed, like the penny, or does it shoot out, like it did in the movie Pink Floyd’s The Wall? [Or am I misremembering?]

When I was growing up, I remember hearing that a penny could stop a train. What they really meant was if you put a penny right in front of the wheel of a motionless train it will never be able to get going. This sounds a lot more plausible than the derailing rumour.

I mentioned this article at, and have already gotten a couple of responses as to what some engineers have seen thrown onto the tracks (and that they have hit withOUT derailing).

Here’s a link:

In an attempt to prevent me from putting a penny on the train track, my father told me that the wheel of the train could shoot the penny out like pinching a watermellon seed and spew red-hot shrapnel in all directions.

Hey, I was gullible back then.

P.S. - there is no way a coin could prevent a train from getting started. Maybe a stack of pennies in front of every wheel…

It suggests writing the URL of the website on the bills, so that folks who get them in the future will be more likely to stop by the site, if only to enter the new location. Horrors, people writing on money, what’s next? Coloring the president’s faces?

I was repairing a computer in a train yard when someone said, “There’s a derailment coming.” Others looked up and agreed; but I only saw another slow-moving train in the yard. Just as predicted, the train bumped a car and knocked the car off the track. I conclude from this that switch yard derailments are more embarrasing than dangerous.

“According to Lee, a train engine weighs over ten tons”
TEN TONS! I think someone dropped a zero…

The picture of Jill’s earring is certainly not one of a
penny squished by a train. It appears to be just about
the size of an unsquished penny. A squished one would
be much larger.

It is, however, about the size of a squished cent.

One would think an editor for The Straight Dope (and
her brothers) would know the difference between US and
British coinage.


But only a post-1856 cent. And it could be a post-1971 penny, anyway.

[[The picture of Jill’s earring is certainly not one of a
penny squished by a train.]]

Is too, is too.

I did this alot in my youth and no, it will not derail a train.

Usually we’d put coins on the tracks and mark the location. We didn’t sit around waiting for a train and this way we could find the squished coins the next day.

One time a train was approaching me really slowly, like less than 5 mph, so I put a penny on the track and waited for it to run it over. When it did, WOW! It sounded like a bomb going off! I was afraid the engineer was gonna stop and come out and kick the shit out of me.

I was raised a stone’s (or a penney’s)throw from the Santa Fe tracks where we heard trains with romantic sounding names like the “Super Chief” or “El Capitan” passing. We tried to smash pennies continuously.

From experience I can tell you that it is very rare that you find the penney after the train thunders by. I don’t know if it shot out like a water melon seed or not, but we rarely found them. When we did they looked just like the one Jill is wearing. I guess I could also say I never saw a train derail as a result of our pennies.

A final bit of lore. We excused our action by saying that pennies were not legal tender, consequently not subject to the proscription from defacing. This one really brought back the memories. Thanks to all.

What I want to know, is when is Jill going to answer a question on breasts, hmmm?:wink:

Got another one coming up that talks a lot about testicles, Dave. Got any JPGs we can use?