The Nevada State Museum surprised us this month when it quietly placed a penny press machine outside its gift shop with absolutely no parade to accompany this fantastic event of events. Though delighted to know that I could add to my ridiculous collection of souvenir pennies, the investment seemed curious. These hand-cranked money machines that flatten and stamp images onto pennies can turn a nice little profit, but the key to riches is foot traffic.
A penny press producing, say, the Crazy Girls butt sculpture at the entrance to the Riviera could rake in cash for the casino. Even the Neon Museum, with its steady flow of daily tours, could benefit. But the Nevada State Museum? Even with the help of a slightly crazed subculture of squished-penny collectors, an online database and an app that lists machines around the country, the business plan is slow going for a place not bombarded with tourists.
But it’s not futile. According to the museum, the $5,500 machine (purchased with its store merchandise budget) pressed 92 pennies in the first week with images of a mammoth, an ichthyosaur, a bristlecone pine and Sarah Winnemucca. That’s $46. If it maintains 100 pennies squished each week at 50 cents a pop, the machine will be paid off in just over two years. From then on, it’s ka-ching, ka-ching. Fifty cents at a time.