I have always remembered the first time I heard the saying "find a penny, pick it up, all day long you'll have good luck!" It was when I was much younger, and my mother was the one who relayed the superstition to me. Ever since then, every time I find a penny heads up, I repeat the saying and carry the penny with me. If I see a penny face down, I do not even bother with it. The penny superstition has such a grip on me that I now associate the fights and/or good times I share with my boyfriend to whether I had seen a penny heads up or down recently. Thinking rationally, I really do not believe that one copper coin can have so much power as to determine whether my day will be good or bad, but my question is: where did this silly phrase come from? And why is it so compelling to believe?
I researched on a couple of websites and found some logical explanations for the "find a penny..." saying, along with some outrageous claims. The first website I discovered described the penny phenomenon as coming from an old religious belief that metal is a gift from God. Thus, finding a penny brings good fortune and protection against evil. The website also said, which is new to me, that if you give the penny to a friend, you are passing on the good luck to that person.
An article I found on Everything.com had two possible explanations for the saying. Apparently, old Wiccan tradition was to use a pin in good luck spells. If a pin was found on the ground people thought, or maybe hoped, that it was from a spell and would bring the finder good luck. The saying was "see a pin and pick it up..." The resolution is that through the years the saying was misunderstood as "see a penny..." instead of "see a pin and..." The second illustration is another religious one. Since the penny has "In God We Trust" printed on it, believers think that finding a penny is God's message of saying the He is here, and in control, and not to worry, but to trust Him.
So far, we have seen pretty reasonable justifications, but I found one website that was completely ludicrous. The website is for asking the Penny Priestess questions about pennies. The "Penny Priestess" is a firm believer in the "Penny God," and according to her, all pennies found, whether they lie on heads or tails, is good luck. There are also claims made on this website that placing pennies around the corners of a room, or on top of a doorway, brings good fortune to the room or house.
I believe that the popularity of this superstition, as well as with others, comes from a person's desire to avoid what could possibly bring bad luck. Picking a penny up off of the ground does no harm, and if it could bring some good luck with it, why not? Besides, if you do something to possibly cause misfortune, every time some misfortune comes your way, it is easy to blame it on the tangible action instead of just the fact that good and bad things happen in life, no matter how many pennies you find, or how many cracks you avoid in the sidewalk, and so on.