"Well, first of all, I'm worth every penny." -- Howard Stern

"A penny saved is a penny earned." A penny must've had a great appeal when Ben Franklin coined that phrase.

A penny was still worth holding onto when I was a kid. I actually got excited if I found a penny on the ground. I doubt if more than a handful of people will bother bending over to pick up a coin nowadays unless it's a quarter or more.

You could send a post card anywhere in the United States for a penny, and the government even provided the card! For an additional two cents, you could mail a three-page letter first class.

Local phone calls cost five cents for three minutes, and for another nickel you could have a cup of coffee while making your call.

During the '40s, San Francisco's Tenderloin District and the lower end of Broadway in Oakland were neighborhoods where social misfits hung out, and their pitiable pleas of "Brother, can you spare me a dime?" occasionally rewarded them with a hot cup of coffee and a little something to temporarily appease their hunger pangs, saving them from having to rummage through garbage cans for a meal.

We old-timers still talk of the days when gasoline was 19 cents a gallon, and people drove around as if their tanks were bottomless and the price of gas would remain 19 cents forever. I recall the day the price of gas topped a dollar a gallon and consumers grumbled, "At least air and water are free!"

Campbell's canned soup was extremely popular as it cost pennies a serving and amply substituted for many a meal. I seldom include soup in my diet nowadays since the cost has more than quadrupled while the can has shrunk in size.

I rarely carry coins. I usually limit what I pack in my pockets to the bare essentials. That way I'm less inclined to lose things like keys when I pull out my handkerchief or wallet.

But not carrying change has its drawbacks. Like the other day. I made a purchase and the total came to $1.03. I gave the cashier two dollars and had to settle for a handful of coins because I couldn't cough up the extra three pennies.

I empty my pockets when I hang up my pants at night and put what change I have in a tray on my dresser. Every so often I cull the pennies from the rest of the coins and toss them into a five-gallon bucket.

It's been several years since I began doing that, and the bucket is now more than half-filled with pennies. As it is, the bucket's a struggle to cart around, and I can only imagine how hard it'll be to pick up once it's full.

I guess I've got well over a few thousand pennies in the bucket by now. Even at three thousand, that equates to $30. I'm in no hurry to count what's in the bucket just yet. Besides, I'll want to wrap the pennies in rolls when I do since I seriously doubt the bank will accept them as is.

I'm sure most people hold onto pennies for whatever reason. One might be that you can't buy very much with one or two cents. If all those pennies could be retrieved and poured onto a pile, the total should amount to millions of dollars.

By keeping those same coins out of circulation, our government has little choice but to mint more pennies at a cost far in excess of what they're worth.

I feel before midcentury, the penny will go the way of the Susan B. Anthony dollar. And if the cost of living continues to rise, the nickel won't be far behind.

As for my penny collection, I've decided to pass it on to my grandson and let him decide what to do with it.

And whatever the fate of the one-cent piece, the penny will always reign number one, as no fortune big or small can be launched without the first cent!

Eizo Kobayashi is a Concord resident and a member of the Concord Senior Citizens Club. Contact him at columns@bayareanewsgroup.com.