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Training Us for Life Without the Cent?
June 07, 2010

I bought a Coke the other day at a gasoline stop for 99 cents. With tax it came to $1.04.

I handed the clerk $2.

She handed one of the dollar bills back to me and said that she could cover the four cents from the take-a-penny dish on the counter.

I protested a bit, saying I thought grabbing four cents was a bit much. In the back of my mind was the rounding convention. I might accept one or two cents, but three or more should get rounded up to the next nickel.

I know this was not a rounding situation, but I was coming to conclusions that I think most people would and they seem to be based on the rounding convention.

If I asked a poll question, “Should people be able to take four cents out of the dish for a $1 transaction?” I would expect a sizable number would say no, feeling uneasy taking what amounts to four percent of the amount tendered. Had I purchased gasoline and the bill was something like $22.04, that would be a different story.

Perhaps the take-a-penny dishes are more than just conveniences for those of us who need an odd cent from time to time.

Perhaps they are a back-door way of training us all how rounding would work in practice.

After all, what difference does it make if the merchant rounds the purchase price down by two cents or whether the clerk grabs two cents out of a dish?

And, instead of taking four cents as the nice clerk did for me, under most conditions, especially if there are other customers in line, it is likely I would not have gotten the gift.

Isn’t it amazing what an extra four cents can do?

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About the Author
David C. Harper has been a coin collector since 1963. He joined the Krause Publications editorial staff in 1978 and is currently editor of Numismatic News and World Coin News. He also edits two books annually, North American Coins & Prices and Coin Digest. He is the author of the Class of '63 column that runs each week in Numismatic News. His first bylined numismatic article appeared in the June 1971 issue of Coins Magazine and his various Krause Publications assignments included a stint as editor of the magazine 1980-1983. Harper received a bachelor of science degree from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh in 1977. He had a double major of journalism and economics.

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