The new 2009 pennies still aren't circulating anywhere, judging by the research I conducted yesterday. I called 21 banks around the country Tuesday afternoon, talking mostly to supervisory tellers and assistant bank managers (whoever handles the currency and coinage inventory), in an effort to discover whether any of them have seen the new Log Cabin pennies yet. None of the banking outlets, (which include a mix of national chains, regional credit unions, and local banks) had received the new pennies yet, as far as they knew.
Most banks are very aware of the situation, with customers asking about the new pennies every day. The banks know they probably won't be receiving whole 50-roll boxes of the new cents, but will likely get them mixed in with older pennies, either in whole rolls or totally mixed. I asked the banks whether they tended to get the new years' pennies early in the year every year, but most banks didn't even know!
The 2009 pennies that have gotten out so far are virtually all from two sources: (a) The Lincoln Cent launch event in Hodgenville, Kentucky, where 80 boxes (4,000 rolls) were distributed, and the Washington, D.C. area, where the U.S. Mint coin depots had some stock on launch day. Paul Hollis, a Louisiana coin dealer, got hold of an undisclosed number of rolls, but these are not for sale; he is giving them away in small numbers as part of his million penny promotion.
Because the number of coins that have reached the public is very small, but the number of people who want them is quite large, a lively business has emerged on eBay. Full rolls of 2009 pennies are currently closing at $20 to $40 each. Single coins (usually sold in 2's and 3's) are getting $2.50 to $9.95 each.
New Penny Scam #1
Unfortunately, a crop of dishonest sellers and outright scammers has emerged in between the legitimate dealers. The worst of these scammers, in my opinion, are the people who are pre-selling the 2009 pennies. Although some of these sellers have enough integrity to clearly state that they are pre-selling, many of them do not, hiding the pre-sale disclosure at the bottom of their auction terms or buried in a bunch of marketing drivel. (Pre-sale pennies are pennies being sold by people who do not even have possession of the coins yet. They sell based on the expectation that they might get some soon.)
Do not buy pre-sale pennies on eBay! It is a 100% no-win situation for you to do this! First of all, nobody has any guarantees about when, or even if, they will ever get any quantity of these coins to fill your order! By the time these sellers do get them, you'll probably be able to get them too because they'll be circulating by then! At the very least, enough of the pennies will be around that the prices will be much lower than they are today. (Most pre-sale auctions are closing for $20 per roll or more, plus shipping.)
Think about it - why would you want to let some seller you don't even know hold onto your money for up to 90 days, just in case he can get the coins at face value? If he can't get them, he refunds your money. BIG DEAL.
New Penny Scam #2
The second biggest new penny scam on eBay is perpetrated by the sellers who show a whole roll of pennies in their photos, but state in the text somewhere that you buying only 1 or 2 or 3 coins. If they wanted to represent their items honestly, why not show a photo of 1 or 2 or 3 pennies? If they really had the pennies to begin with, they could take a simple photo of them. If they don't have a camera, there are free pictures of the single penny on the U.S. Mint Web site. There is no reason to show a whole roll of coins when you are actually only selling 1, other than to deceive people who don't fully read the auction text. Some of these 2-coin auctions also had up to a $4.99 shipping charge!
New Penny Scam #3
Another big sucker play on eBay has to do with rolls of coins with postage stamps on them. Although I feel that paying $50 to $60 for a postally-canceled First Day of Issue roll of 50 pennies is foolish, at least you are getting what you think you are buying. But some sellers have taken to putting the new Lincoln Commemorative stamps on single rolls of the new pennies, and then claiming they got them at the Hodgenville event. The clear implication, by photo or by description, is that these rolls are First Day of Issue postally-canceled rolls, when in fact they're just regular old rolls of coins with a postage stamp stuck to the wrapper. Be careful of what you're bidding on!
Speaking of First Day of Issue, be aware that the post office uses hand-cancel rubber-stamps that can have the dates changed on them very easily. They are intentionally made this way so the postal workers can put the proper date on it each day. All it takes to stamp a roll of coins with Feb. 12, 2009 is a good friend who works for USPS, and maybe not even that. ;)
If you are going to buy a First Day of Issue box or roll on eBay, make sure that the postmark says both "Hodgenville, Kentucky" and "Feb. 12, 2009." I'm not an expert in these kinds of stamps, but some eBay sellers have claimed that only a certain black cancellation is the genuine, official First Day franking for the Hodgenville Post Office. Buyer beware!
Other Penny News
The U.S. Mint has confirmed that it will definitely sell the circulation-quality rolls of pennies on its Web site soon (and not through the Direct Ship Program, either.) The official I spoke to couldn't give me a time frame for the onset of these sales, but it will definitely happen, probably within the next couple of weeks. The price hasn't been determined yet, but I think it's a real sure bet that it will be quite a bit less than $20 a roll!