Elongates – A Penny For Your Thoughts

By Robert Sissons

June 2022

What’s the use of a penny these days? Many people fling them on the pavement when they get one in change, or throw them in a drawer when they get home. Why continue to produce a coin of which you need over sixty to purchase a second-class stamp?

Yet there is something quite fun that you can do with pennies at a number of tourist attractions in South-East England. Arm yourself with a supply of pennies and some pound coins, and you can enter the fascinating world of squashed pennies, or ‘elongates’ as they are called by aficionados.

The craze for squashing coins originated in the USA. As President Lincoln’s funeral train was slowly making its way across America in April 1865, mourners would place a copper cent on the track in front of it. They would afterwards keep the squashed coin as a souvenir and scratch on it the late President’s name and date of death.

Penny Rolling Machine (Royal Armouries Museum Leeds)
Photo :- Mtaylor848, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Perhaps inspired by these home-made ‘squashed pennies’, the 1893 World’s Fair at Chicago saw the appearance of the world’s first ‘coin rolling’ machine: visitors would hand a cent plus a ‘squashing fee’ to an attendant and receive in return an elongated cent stamped with the words ‘1893 Columbian Exposition’. The gimmick was an immediate success. Over the next few decades ‘squashed pennies’ would be produced at every major exhibition across America. From the 1960s, self-service machines started appearing at tourist attractions from the Grand Canyon to the Empire State Building. Thousands of different designs are available, and some people collect every one they can find. Others specialise in particular topics, such as ships, animals or historic sites.

Now what has this to do with South-East England? Well, coin squashing machines can be found here too! Outlawed in the UK, where defacing coinage was long prohibited, the machines were finally legalised in the 1990s. Slots at the top of the machine take the penny and a £1 coin (the ‘squashing’ fee): just turn a wheel to operate the rollers that squash the coin. There is often a choice of three or four designs.

Diggerland Elongate
Port Lympne Elongate

In Kent you can find machines in three animal parks: Howletts near Canterbury, Port Lympne and Wingham Wildlife Park. Diggerland at Strood near Rochester has a machine with designs showing various diggers, and Dover Castle has a machine in the Prince of Wales Regimental Museum. A machine near the Maze at Leeds Castle has a most attractive set of four elongates, and a set of four with a Churchillian theme can be obtained at Chartwell.

Brighton Sea Life Elongate
Former Yesterday’s World (Battle) Elongate

In East Sussex, Brighton has several penny machines. There are two on Brighton Palace Pier, one in the Royal Pavilion and two in the Sea Life Centre. Not to be outdone, nearby Hastings has machines at the East and West Cliff lifts, in the Blue Reef Aquarium and at Smuggler’s Adventure. Knockhatch at Hailsham also has a four-die machine, but sadly Yesterday’s World in Battle, which had one of England’s first squashed penny machines, closed in 2015, robbing collectors of the chance to obtain a penny dated 1066!

As far as I am aware, the only penny-squashing machine in West Sussex is at Wakehurst Place, and the sole machine known in Surrey is at Birdworld near Farnham.

oops! – London Bridge Elongate?

Anyone going into London will find dozens of machines. There are good selections in the Natural History and Science Museums, at HMS Belfast and the Cutty Sark, and along the South Bank near the London Eye. Some of the dies for these machines were obviously not produced locally: I have a penny with the words ‘London Bridge’ and a picture of … Tower Bridge!

I recommend squashed pennies as inexpensive souvenirs that don’t take up too much space! And if you have Americans on your tour coach, there’s a good chance that one or two of them will collect elongates, so it’s worthwhile mentioning any machines you know and offering to exchange money if they need the coins to operate them. Squashed pennies can even increase in value: machines are sometimes removed or have the dies replaced, and obsolete designs can fetch quite substantial sums of money on eBay! That’s a lot of fun for a penny!

One of the great joys of guiding is the seemingly endless discovery of strange and peculiar facts – the story of squashed pennies being a prime example. Who would have thought that the world of squashed pennies had its origins in America and President Lincoln’s funeral?

Robert is a SE England and a London Blue Badge Guide based near Folkestone

(all photos by Robert Sissons unless otherwise noted)