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Superstitions and Coins Can Bode Good and Bad Luck
By Alan Herbert, Coins Magazine
September 27, 2011

This article was originally printed in Coins Magazine.
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Since coins are one of the favorite pocket pieces, they draw perhaps more than their fair share of attention when the topic of superstitions comes up. Some customs are very common and not limited to any particular country.

Almost anywhere on the planet it is deemed good luck to spot a coin in your path and pick it up. This particular superstition is not as popular as it once was, since the coin—usually a cent or other small denomination—seemingly isn’t worth the bother of bending over. In some places great importance is placed on which side of the coin you bring up to eye level. Good luck follows if it is heads, bad luck if it is tails.

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Early American thin silver coins were bent twice to ward off witches, while a single bend attested to a loved one. A silver dime in the churn would ensure a plentiful amount of butter that wasn’t hexed.

Coins have a lot to do with weddings. The bride should wear a coin in her (left) shoe to bring about a lucky marriage. One of the more popular coins for this ritual is the English sixpence. Coins have an affinity for water, dating back to the pagans. A pool of water is an open invitation to toss in a coin to bring luck. A recent TV special centered on a natural pool in an underground cave. If memory serves, they recovered as much as $35,000 in the annual cleanup of coins, the proceeds going to various charities. Luck all the way around.

A silver coin was used under the mast of a ship as it was built, to ensure smooth sailing. Coins were slipped under the welcome mat to keep bad luck from visiting. A coin placed in the four corners of a room brought wealth and good fortune, perhaps even more if coins were scattered about the whole house. The same applied to coins placed behind the baseboard. I know of one old miner’s cabin where there was a row of gold coins on the trim above a window, good fortune for the metal detector’s operator.

I have become involved with another superstition at the Johnny Spaulding cabin, next to the Tri-State Museum and the geographical center of the nation at Belle Fourche, S.D. A friend and I volunteer there.

He decided there were too many flies, so he hung a plastic bag filled with water at each door to keep them from coming in. A tourist visiting the cabin recognized what they were, so on his advice we placed a cent in each bag. The jury is out on whether this works but there is some anecdotal evidence that it may have some effect.

A silver coin with a hole through it is considered to be a harbinger of good luck, one of the reasons why we find so many early silver coins with holes, in addition to those used as teethers. For a fisherman, putting a coin on a piece of wood and letting it float away will ensure a good catch. Switching for a moment, a collection of notes from each of the 12 Federal Reserve Banks will bring you money. Can anyone verify that?

The Russians believe that scattering coins all over your house will bring wealth. Carry a coin in your pocket to attract other money.

One of the favorite collectibles are encased coins, especially since most bear the legends: “Keep me and never go broke,” or, “Keep me and have good luck.”

On a more somber note, coins were placed on the eyes of the dead, to pay Charon their passage across the river Styx and into hell. These coins were usually English pennies. Since they were heavy, they kept the eyes closed so that the dead would not find someone to go with them.

Back to paper money, gamblers considered a $2 note as bringing bad luck. If one turned up in a pot, the four corners were torn off to ward off evil spirits.

President Woodrow Wilson was superstitious about the number of letters in his name. Wilson was what you might call “counter” superstitious about the number 13, considering it his lucky number, and he delighted in inviting 13 guests to a dinner or party. Which reminds me, there are 13 letters in the motto appearing on our coins—“E PLURIBUS UNUM.”

Even the quarter is sometimes considered to be a symbol of bad luck. This superstition dates back to the early years of our country when the first quarters were issued.

Somebody took note of the 13 stars and the fact that there were 13 letters in the words “quarter dollar.” With that irrefutable evidence, the coin was labeled as unlucky, so as a result few people would carry one as a pocket piece.

More Coin Collecting Resources:

2012 U.S. Coin Digest

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Strike It Rich with Pocket Change, 2nd Edition

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