by Jen Graves
on Wed, Nov 4, 2009 at 9:37 AM
(Almost) nothing to see here
Two years ago, Seattle artist Jack Daws made a penny using about a hundred dollars' worth of gold. It was a counterfeit. A good one, barely noticeable unless the patina wore down and the gold showed through, or unless somebody put it on a scale. (This is not a crime.) He put it into circulation at LAX while buying a Hustler.
Essentially, he gave away a hundred dollars in gold. It was entirely possible that nobody would ever discover the sculpture in their chunk of change.
But somebody did—and the person who did is an artist, and a maker of cakes, including one with the face of a penny. It's a pretty great little story. The artist tells it in her own words on the jump.
This is a story about finding a penny, but it begins with a dime. As for how it all ends, of that I have no idea...
On Monday of last week (the 26th), I was counting out the 44 cents I needed to complete a purchase when I spotted an unfamiliar coin in the lot. Looking closer, I realized that it was a U.S. dime, minted in 1924, but unlike any dime I'd ever seen. Once home, I did a google search and identified the dime as a 1924 Mercury Head; not very valuable, but beautiful none-the-less. Researching it reminded me that I had another unusual coin in my possession—a golden penny. I'd had it for a few months ( at least) having noticed it when I was paying for groceries at the neighborhood C-Town. A fan of "not what you see everyday" coins, I'd slipped it back into my change purse (coincidentally also gold-colored) to remain until I could find out a little more about it. I never spent it any of the times I went into that little zippered bag for change, but I never remembered to look it up either. That said, having found the dime, I felt inspired and curious to see if anything at all would be online about a golden penny. I started with a Google search for "gold penny," and came up with listings for science experiments to turn a penny gold-colored, but the images shown did not match what I had. Next I tried "gold penny 1970" the date stamped on the coin. The first link that came up was a post on forum.treasurenet.com: "Artist makes solid gold penny then puts it in circulation!!!" I read through the post; the story of an artist named Jack Daws who, in 2007, cast ten counterfeit pennies in copper-plated solid gold. Nine of the ten were kept at the Greg Kucera gallery in Seattle, but one was spent by the artist at LAX in late March of 2007. "The artwork looks like a real penny, except due to the casting process, it's slightly smaller, and because of the gold's weight, it's almost twice as heavy....Anyone interested in looking for the piece... should look for a penny dated 1970, with no mint mark." I looked at the penny I'd found. Date stamp, 1970. No mint mark. Seriously?! I needed more. Pennies minted in San Francisco do not have mint marks, and pennies minted in 1970 are the opposite of rare. Next test: I took the penny to the kitchen and pulled out my digital scale. 3 grams. Running back to the bedroom, I pulled a few pennies out of my change jar. My boyfriend, one of those who keeps a staggering amount of knowledge stored in his brain, mentioned that I should weigh it against another coin from the early 70's as the government changed the metal content of pennies in the 80's. Sure enough, a 1972 penny weighed in at 2 grams. I honestly thought there was no way it could be "the" penny. The chance of it being found seemed too great. The chance of my having found it seemed to great. Still, I went to the website of the Seattle gallery that represents Daws, Greg Kucera Gallery, to see if any further information was available, any sure tell that I had indeed found not only the penny, but a really good story as well. The same press release that I'd read within the first post offered no new information, but there was, near the bottom of the page, a picture of the penny that Jack Daws spent. It looked like a penny. Any penny. But as the press release said, the coin to look for has a date of 1970, no mint mark, and a heavier weight. Could it be? I knew the next step would be to call the gallery, but it was late evening in Brooklyn. I'd have to wait until the gallery opened the next day. A sensation oddly like what it felt to be a kid awaiting Christmas morning filled me as I counted down the hours until they were scheduled to open. 10:30 am on their end of the country, 1:30 pm on mine. That Christmas-morning excitement never left. If fact, as I picked up the phone to call I noticed I was shaking, a million hummingbird beating their wings at the speed of light in my chest. By that time, I'd told a few close co-workers and we'd examined the coin with a high-magnification loupe, could see what looked like faint birthmarks of copper on the ridge of Lincoln's nose, outlining his profile and the rim of the coin. I went back and forth from thinking "This has to be it," to thinking "How in the world can this be the coin." When the gallery phone was answered, it took me a second to think what in the world to say. Finally, I started with, "Hello, my name is Jessica. I live in Brooklyn, NY and I think I found Jack Daws' penny."