I am not a superstitious person, I will break mirrors, step on cracks, walk under ladders and refuse to wear green on Friday 13th, but if I find a penny I will pick it up. I don’t know exactly why, but I do, and if I don’t I wonder if I would have had a much better day had I not. I once picked up a 2p and had an awful day, I decided that pennies in even numbers are bad, I know this is ridiculous, but some part of my mind is seeing an effect for a non-existent cause.

In the original version the phrase was “see a pin and pick it up and all day long you’ll have good luck,” this is a reference to a pagan (and now Wiccan) ritual in which a pin could be used in a good luck spell. The myth was that a dropped pin might have been used in such a spell and would provide good luck to the person who finds it.

The phrase “see a penny, pick it up…” was first used around the turn of the last century in America There are two possible explanations for the change, the most simple is a corruption of “pin and,” said with the correct accent could easily be mistaken for “penny.” The other explanation is that on American pennies the words “in God we trust” are printed on each one. The idea is that God sees you are having a bad time and drops a message in front of you telling you to trust him, quite a compelling message for those who believe in him.

The final line is “see a pin/penny, let it lay and have bad luck all day,” this is probably the line which makes me pick up pennies, (and there are a lot of pennies on the ground out there, why do people insist on throwing away money like that?) A promise of bad luck if you don’t obey is often a theme in religion and superstition and this line may have been added later, still, next time you see a penny, will you want to chance a bad day if you don’t pick it up?

The bottom line is that if you see a penny and pick it up, you are that much closer to being able to buy something, that can’t be bad luck.

DejaMorgana says: there is a Hebrew version of "see a penny...", which goes "He who will not pick up a grush, is not worth a grush". A grush is an old, old Palestinian (pre-Israeli) coin that was probably never worth a tenth of a penny.

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