Smashed.  Flattened.  Elongated.  Squashed.  Pressed.  Rolled.  Squished.
What do these terms have in common?  They all refer to pennies put through a penny press machine.

Maybe you remember collecting these pennies as a youth.  Or perhaps you have seen the machines at various tourist places.  Well, now you no longer have to travel further than to the west edge of Colby, Wisconsin, to find the only penny press machine within 92 miles, located at the Colby Community Library (CCL).

The idea of penny pressing may have been around since 1833 in Europe, but the idea really became popular in the United States after the 1893 Columbian World’s Fair Exposition in Chicago.  The Exposition, celebrating Columbus’s 400th anniversary of discovering America, covered 600 acres and was comprised of dozens of buildings.  Situated in the “Electricity Building,” a modified jeweler’s mill was on display and cranked out pressed coins.  People saw virtually indestructible coins be squashed under several tons of pressure and turned into wafer-thin pieces of metal with a souvenir design pressed into the penny.  They were highly desired as souvenir specimens of the Exposition.

After experiencing a lag in 1916, penny presses picked up again in 1932 when tourist spots started promoting them.  After another decline in popularity in the 1950s and 1960s, the bicentennial year, 1976, found a resurgence as collectors were interested in commemorative materials for America’s 200th birthday.  In the 1980s, thanks to Disney parks, pressed pennies became very popular at their attractions and soon other tourist sites followed suit.

Today, you will find the penny machines throughout the United States at amusement parks, zoos, and other tourist attractions.  In 2023, there were 3300 machines in America.  (3301 now that Colby has a machine!)  Websites are devoted to the location of machines, so travelers can plan ahead to collect pressed pennies

So, how did Colby, a small town in Wisconsin, end up with a penny press machine?  The family of Jim Brill, a lifelong Township of Hull resident who passed away in June 2023, was looking to present a memorial to the Colby Community Library.  Since the opening of the library in 2017, Director Vicky Calmes had a vision of a penny press machine at the CCL.  Upon further discussion with Jim’s family, Calmes was given the go ahead to have a penny press machine designed, with an antiquated look, to match the library’s mission-style décor.

Four dies are included with the machine, and ideas were submitted to the Penny Press Machine USA company.  Eventually, the designs decided upon were:

  1. Colby Community Library’s original book stamp
  2. Home of Colby Cheese (with a wedge of Cheese)
  3. Colby Hornets (mascot)
  4. Colby Depot and Train in 1873

In order to promote the newly acquired machine, Calmes contacted area financial institutions to see if they would sponsor a coupon giving community members a FREE first pressed penny.  Abby Bank, Forward Bank, Nicolet Bank, Royal Credit Union, and Taylor Credit Union all jumped on board to contribute rolls of quarters and rolls of pennies to fund the first 1000 pressed pennies for coupon-bearing residents.  It is hoped that people who visit the library for their free pressed penny will purchase some of the other designs, costing only 51 cents per pressed coin.

The Friends of the Colby Library will have “Penny Passports” for sale.  These booklets hold 48 pressed pennies in slots.  Hopefully, the penny press machine at the Colby Community Library will inspire collectors to search out penny machines when they travel; a fifty-one cent souvenir coin is hard to beat.  The CCL has a printed list of machine locations in Wisconsin for interested penny people.

Calmes plans to challenge classes at local schools to attempt to trade Colby smashed pennies for pennies from the other 49 states to help learn more about U.S. geography.  Class reunion committees are encouraged to incorporate the pennies into their celebrations.  Local businesses may also be interested in using the elongated pennies in promotional materials.

No one needs to worry about defacing money.  Providing a person is not mutilating currency for counterfeiting purposes, coin pressing is legal in the United States.  Flattened pennies are intended as souvenirs with no intent to pass them off as currency.

A memorial plaque will be installed on the machine:
We hope you enjoy making your token today,
but even more so, we hope it makes you smile.
A smile takes little effort, but it can bring forth
such great responses.
There is nothing quite as universal as a smile,
to share yours generously!

In memory of James (Jim) R. Brill,
who was known to share his
smile with everyone!

Calmes added, “The excitement generated by the news about the library’s acquisition of a penny press machine has been phenomenal.  People love to share stories about their first penny or how many places they have visited that had machines.  This is such a great tribute to Jim, who in his quiet way, was so helpful to so many people…and as the plaque reminds us, always with a smile on his face.  Thank you to the Brill family who remembered the CCL with this memorial as they remembered their beloved family member.”