“Find a penny pick it up, for the day you’ll have good luck,
Find a penny leave it there, the rest of the day: doom, death, despair”
The informant is a 19-year-old female from St. Paul, Minnesota who currently lives in Los Angeles, CA and attends the University of Southern California. She heard it as a child, although she does not remember the exact person that told the rhyme to her.
The informant is one of my college roommates, who I asked to relate any folk beliefs or legends she had for the purpose of this project.
This is a common superstition that many Americans would recognize. It seems to allude to a sort of contagious magic where the penny itself brings a person good luck. I’ve heard the first part of the rhyme many times but never the second. In recent times, however, I’ve seen more people become weary of picking things, even money, off the street for fear of sickness. I think it’s reflective of the times, especially currently being in the COVID-19 epidemic. I also think the superstition might show a bit about American beliefs towards money where every penny counts and people find it important to always be taking what you can get. It also connotes money and good luck, indicating a general positive reaction towards money, versus a negative reaction towards people who neglect it.