Lucky Penny Magic


“I believe in lucky pennies. I have a bunch right here; I have some in my window. They’re only lucky if you find them heads up. But if I find one that is heads down, I’ll flip it so it’s lucky for the next person.

“Sometimes if I know someone’s having a bad day, or they have an exam and they need some luck, I’ll give them one of my lucky pennies.

“But there have been times when I’ve found a lucky penny, and I’m like, ‘Ok, this is the day that I have to do something ballsy and brave. This is a sign.’ And then it won’t go well. And I’ll be like, ‘The lucky penny magic isn’t real,’ and I’ll swear off lucky pennies. But I never seem to stop myself. I always continue doing it anyway.”

GR said she couldn’t recall an experience when a lucky penny actually gave her good luck. “Unless I have incredibly spectacular, amazing luck, I’ll never recognize good luck. I only really recognize when I’ve had really bad luck.”


GR is a 21 year-old college student from Portland, OR, currently living in Los Angeles. Her grandparents were Irish immigrants.

Lucky penny belief is performed mostly in public spaces where one is likely to have dropped loose change, such as a place of business, a parking lot, or the sidewalk. As a resident of a large urban area, GR often encounters such spaces. It is likely that the frequency of finding lucky pennies influences her belief.


Lucky penny magic reflects the values of American capitalist society, in which money is the main mechanism of upward mobility and survival. Under this system of values, coming into any amount of money by chance is genuinely good luck.

GR’s belief goes further, however, claiming that the pennies are not merely an instance of luck but a token of it, a good luck charm. Lucky penny belief for some is merely a sign superstition, a form of belief that requires no action; one merely encounters a sign of good or bad luck.

However, GR actively takes part in the belief, choosing to collect the lucky pennies, give them to her friends, and flip a heads down penny over for the next person. This action is what makes her belief magic. Specifically, GR believes that lucky pennies are a form of contagious magic in their ability to bring good luck to whoever possesses them.

Additionally, her choice to collect the pennies out of belief that they may bring luck in the future reflects the future-orientation of American culture, as described by folklorist Alan Dundes.