Editor’s Note: This is a reprint of one of Ronald Brantley’s older columns as he was unable to send one this week.
There is an old song that goes, “If the devil danced in an empty pocket, he’d have a ball in mine.” Money was something else as I grew up.
One man said the soles on his shoes were so thin if he stepped on a dime he could tell if it was heads or tails. When money is scarce a dime is a lot. If Cokes are a nickel and you don’t have a nickel, you still don’t get a Coke.
Money looks different now than it did when I was a growing up. About all nickels were buffalo nickels, there was Indian head and Lincoln pennies and liberty dimes. When people could get them, they carried Washington quarters and people carried half dollars and silver dollars in their pockets. You would think that they would get heavy, but you must remember no one had that much to carry. Money jingled in those days. It was not uncommon to see and hear a man jingle the money in his pocket.
Games were played with coins and some people got good at these games. I’ve seen men flip a coin in the air, as it came down hit it with the heel of their shoe and bounce it back up and catch it. This was done mainly with a fifty-cent piece (half-dollar).
Back in World War II copper got scarce and pennies were made of copper, so the government started making pennies out of a substitute metal and they had a silver or white look to them. They were called white pennies. It is rare to find one in your change today. By the way, this is when coins stopped jingling. The white penny had a flat sound when dropped. Ask some older person that saved coins or a coin collector and they will show you one.
All dollar bills were silver certificates and this money was backed by silver. Today all bills are backed by federal reserve notes and are backed by government bonds, notes and promises. Half-dollars were popular while I was growing up, but the use of them has steadily declined, mainly because they will not fit any vending machines. As you know, a lot of the dollar coins did not catch on. They tried two or three varieties and none of them have worked so far. The big silver dollars started disappearing when people started making more money and men felt they were to heavy for their pockets. It is hard to find a big silver dollar or half-dollar this day and time.
I don’t know if people still use coins for betting games or not.
There were Coke machines on each floor of the mill and next to the Coke machine was a rack for used Coke bottles. On the bottom of the bottles was the name of the town where the drinks were bottled. Men would play “pull the bottle” and the one that got the bottle from the longest distance won his Coke for free.
Everyone knows the pitch the coin at the crack game; the coin that lands nearest the crack wins the coins.
Talking about vending machines, there were plenty of them years ago. First of all, there were parking meters downtown. They took pennies and nickels. Every café and service station had a cigarette machine and all cafes had a jukebox. Some even had boxes outside where drive-ins were.
I’m about to run out of space and I still haven’t told you about tokens or $2 dollar bills. I give two-dollar bills for tips in restaurants. Indian head pennies and many other coins and bills that were a part of my growing up. I never had many of any kind, but I’ve had fun with those I did have. I hope you enjoyed it... I’ll give you a penny for your thoughts!
Ronald Brantley is a Tallassee native and longtime columnist for The Tribune.