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    How’d that penny get inside the bottle

    The glass bottle was hiding in the box of throw-away knickknacks – the others, like it, no bigger than my fingertip. They were the type of items we all pick up thinking that we might find a use for them in our lives but never do.

    I saw that there was not one but two of the clear bottles, and positioned inside both was a penny – one shiny, the other a bit dull. The bottles were no more than an inch tall (1 ½ inches, I determined later) with a lip at the top.

    One of the bottles had a pinched middle that appeared to be part of its design, but its sides had been chipped open, leaving two holes. The other was in perfect condition.

    Two pennies in bottles that were sold in a box lot at auction.

    I had two thoughts about the bottles:

    How old were the pennies and were they worth anything?

    How the heck did they get inside the bottles?

    Thinking the dull penny was more aged, I took a closer look at it. Instantly, I saw that its back was old school, imprinted with the words “One Cent” and a wheat symbol along the bottom sides. It was dated 1942. The bottom of the bottle bore a silver label with blue writing: “Wirecraft. Hand blown in USA.” The other bottle held a more modern-looking 1964 penny with the Lincoln Memorial on the back.

    The 1942 penny was obviously a lot more interesting. A regular wheat penny was worth from 35 cents to $4, according to the site cointrackers.com (and 10 cents, according to another site). It was minted in Philadelphia because it has no mint mark (a mark of “D” would mean that it was made in Denver and “S” in San Francisco).

    The front and back of the 1942 wheat penny in a bottle.

    Mine was a circulated coin – meaning it had been used – and that deflected from the value. But if it were one of the rare wheat pennies – which it likely was not – it would be worth a hundred dollars and more. At least that’s what they were selling for on eBay. One site noted that wheat pennies were among the most collectible.

    The 1964 penny was worth from 20 cents to 35 cents, according to cointrackers.com. Proofs were valued at a little more.

    I know very little about coins, and the hobby (like stamp collecting) seems so restrictive that I don’t even have the energy to fathom it. I don’t buy coins or stamps at auction, but every now and then I get a box lot that has a few such items in it. In most cases, they’re worth no more than a couple cents.

    As for the cost of the “penny in the bottle” itself, I found lots of them on the web – some billed as conversation-starters or party favors selling for as low as $2.29. Most had corks in the neck as if the penny would somehow escape. Wikipedia called them an “impossible bottle” that could include such things as pine cones, fruits and vegetables, and tennis balls (in larger bottles, no doubt).

    The front and back of the 1964 penny in a bottle.

    Ones with advertising seemed to be more popular. On eBay, the prices as usual were all over the place and many of the bottles did not sell. Souvenir bottles with Disneyland and Graceland logos were selling well. A bottle without advertising with a 1964 penny sold for $9.99. Another with a 1967 penny sold for $4.95.

    As for how the penny got into the bottle, the Wirecraft label gave me part of the answer, which I had already surmised myself. Neither of the bottles had a seam line so I knew they were not melded together. Instead, they were one continuous piece, and one had a concave bottom with a tip inside.

    I figured that the glass had been hand-blown around the pennies – unlike the process by which I had seen some model ships erected in a bottle piece by piece. I’m sure no expert glass blower spent time creating these tiny little discards of a bottle. They were likely produced in the thousands by glass or bottle-blowing machines.






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