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Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix, editor

Penny Pinching Souvenirs

Elongated coins as affordable and portable collectibles

Wednesday, August 6, 2003
by Lani Teshima, staff writer

They're made of metal, with a raised surface that marks the imprint of images and lettering. They're small enough to put in your pocket, and there are many different styles and images on the market. Collect them, trade them, show them off. Before you say “Disney pin!” think again — each of these little gems only sets you back 51 cents (and one of those cents you get to take home with you).


For two quarters and a penny (or four quarters — one to keep), park visitors can take home elongated coins such as these. Photo by Alex Stroup.

Pressed pennies. Squished pennies. Smashed pennies. Flattened coins. No matter what you call them, elongated coins are one of the best souvenirs for children and budget-minded travelers.

When you visit a Disney park, it's hard not to miss the elongated coin machines. Most of the machines in the parks are standalone units that are easy to spot, with a glass casing allowing you to see the mechanics of the machinery inside. The front usually has two or three sample coins below large illustrations of what the imprints are supposed to look like.


“Press your penny into a souvenir design!” beckons an elongated coin machine at Disney's California Adventure park. Photo by Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix.

Some, like the machine in the Adventureland store, are heavily themed and fun to watch. Even those that aren't themed, though, provide the kind of amusement you get when you watch a gumball drop through a maze to dispense out of a big machine — most machines allow you to watch your penny drop through the slot, stop in place, and disappear from view as the rollers press over it. When you dig your fingers into the receptacle to retrieve the penny, you know it was just rolled because it feels warm to the touch from the pressure it just experienced.


Considered the best-dressed pressed penny machine in Disneyland, Raja's Mint in the Adventureland Bazaar not only makes elongated coins, but also puts on a show in the process — Raja, the elephant on the top of the machine, “stamps” your penny. Photo by Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix.

What are elongated coins?

According to The Elongated Collectors (TEC), the rolling of elongated coins in the United States began at the World's Columbian Exposition held in Chicago, Illinois in 1892-1893:

Elongated coins are coins rolled through hand-cranked mill type machines consisting of reverse-engraved dies cut in steel rollers, similar in concept to wringers on old fashioned washing machines. Regular coins are run between the rollers under tremendous pressure (about 22 tons), which presses the coin into the die, and due to the pressure, simultaneously stretches the coin into an elongated shape.

Stretch your money

A park visitor can easily rack up the bill purchasing souvenirs, unless those souvenirs are elongated coins. With roughly 100 different elongated coin designs currently available in Disneyland park, that would still only set you back $51, a cost that would barely cover the price of a Disneyland sweatshirt.

“For any visitor to the Disney parks, elongated coins are the cheapest souvenir,” said Stuart Liss, the webmaster for The Elongated Collectors association and publisher of the Disney Pressed Penny Checklist. “There aren't too many 50-cent souvenirs that will not fall apart by the time you get home from vacation.”

TEC member and Disney EC collector Lou Smith agrees. “Disneyland ECs are the cheapest souvenirs at the parks, and they last a long time too, made of metal, and not too many get thrown away on purpose. The older they get, the more desirable they usually are,” said Lou who maintains an updated list of Disneyland elongated coins.

Elongated coins also make great souvenirs for friends, co-workers and family back home. Unlike Goofy hats (which may never get worn) or Mickey T-shirts (that they can purchase at the Disney Store), elongated coins can only be obtained in the park, giving them more value as souvenir gifts than just their monetary worth. Before you leave for your visit to the parks, talk to your friends. They will appreciate your thoughtfulness when you bring back an elongated coin of their favorite ride or character.

Storing your pennies

For many years, Disney did not offer any easy way of storing the elongated coins. Visitors either tucked the pennies in their wallets, pockets, empty film canisters, or other small containers.

A few years ago, Disney finally began selling plastic EC holders in the park. These fold-out holders provide a convenient way to keep track as you go through the park to collect ECs, and Lou agrees that they are good for short-term storage and display.


Plastic EC holders are a great way to carry your coins as you collect them during your park visit. Photo by Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix.

Lou warns, however, that the plastic material reacts with the copper in the pennies, and turns them green.

“The holders are nice collectibles in and of themselves; I have one of each kind,” Lou said. “For most coins, I use 2x2 cardboard holders, cheap and clean, put into 20 coin pages in 3 ring binders for many coins.” These cardboard holders are available at coin collector shops, as well as some online resources (including the museum in Washington D.C. [see sidebar]).

Some people even like to wear their pressed coins. For example, it's not too difficult to drill a hole on one end, and wear a coin as a necklace, or to add it to a keychain.

Becoming a collector

Since the cost of pressing a penny is so affordable, elongated coin collecting is a hobby that anyone can easily start. Parents rave about getting their children interested in collecting ECs, since it gives them a cheap and interesting hobby. After all, how many collectible hobbies allow you to personally manufacture each item in your collection? And since ECs are so common at most tourist destinations, one need not limit the collection to just the ECs from Disney parks.

“I started collecting ECs after a visit to Walt Disney World in 1999,” said Stuart. “There are many machines at Walt Disney World and Disneyland, but there are machines all over the world.”

For those who want to kick-start their collection, Stuart recommends trading coins with other collectors. For example, you can mail five ECs from Colorado to someone in Phoenix for five coins from Arizona. Unless the ECs are rare, you can usually guarantee a fair trade, making trading a good method.

“Ebay is another good source for common and rare ECs,” Stuart said. “Believe it or not, there are ECs that sell for a lot of money. Some are old and rare — the first ECs were at the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago.”

Some retired Disney ECs sell for a lot of money as well. According to Lou, the best ones to try and collect are the ECs for special events, such as the 45th Anniversary penny, 75 years of Mickey, and Holiday nickels, as well as dated coins such as the 2003 Villains set.

“Besides being a nice keepsake, they are also a reminder of when you went to the Park,” Lou said.

Becoming an advanced collector

Most advanced collectors such as Lou and Stuart prefer copper pennies made before 1982, because pennies made after that period are copper-plated zinc, which leaves white streaks in the pressing process. Worse, the zinc turns black and the coins cannot be cleaned easily.

Lou offers this advanced tip:

You can spray the obverse (“face” or “heads” — the dated side) with clear polyurethane, then smash the reverse (“back” or “tails”) side with Mickey or whatever. The plastic coating peels off and the details of Lincoln and the date stay readily visible. It is a good idea if using post-1982 zinc pennies to spray a thin coat of clear sealer or plastic on them so the exposed zinc doesn't turn black and the copper stays shiny.

Where are all the machines in Disneyland?

Disneyland's City Hall does maintain a list of ECs. Unfortunately, the list is usually outdated, and does not give collectors an accurate inventory.

“City Hall at Disneyland should have the latest info on computer and just print it for anyone who asks, but it doesn't work that way,” said Lou. “They are usually several weeks or months out of sync.”

As an avid collector who keeps track of all of the changes in EC machines at the Disneyland Resort, Lou visits the park regularly, and collects the information for Stuart's Web site. Before you visit the park, take a moment to visit Stuart's Disney Pressed Penny Checklists and print out the list for those parks you plan to visit. Stuart has a complete list for Disneyland, as well as lists for DCA, Walt Disney World in Florida, and the Disney parks in Tokyo.

Next time someone calls you a “penny pincher” for your frugal habits, smile and show them an elongated penny from Disneyland!


Thoughts, questions, or comments? Contact Lani here.


MORE INFO

Although Disney park fans use the phrase “pressed penny,” the generally accepted term among serious collectors is “elongated coin.”

The Elongated Collectors (TEC): The most recognized association of EC enthusiasts (link).

Stuart Liss's Disney Pressed Penny Checklists

Squished Penny Museum in Washington D.C. (link).

Anastasia and Bob Hoff's Guide to Disney ECs.

Yahoo Groups:

elongatedcoin – An older list with a stronger focus on elongated coin discussions.

elongatedcoins – A smaller list that is less formal than the first group.

thedisneyelongatedcoinsclub – An even smaller group of dedicated Disney EC collectors.


You can contact Lani Teshima here.


ABOUT THE EDITOR

Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix is the super-shopper behind MouseShoppe, your personal and unofficial shopping service for the Disneyland Resort, and the owner of CharmingShoppe, a Disney collectibles store located in Anaheim.

In addition to scouring the park to find you the latest and greatest merchandise, she keeps you updated on all of the merchandise events happening in the parks.

If you want to talk to her about this column, merchandise, or events, contact her here.

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