Copper in the Arts

February 2012

A Penny for Lorna Leedy's Thoughts

By Jennifer Hetrick

Penny Necklace Penny Necklace

Photograph courtesy of Lorna Leedy
Fashion designer and jewelry maker Lorna Leedy brings copper closer to the heart through her incredibly well-selling squashed penny necklaces.

Leedy was living in Marfa, Texas, when inspiration struck. She lived close to the town's railroad tracks, and began noticing that the tourists traveling through loved taking home train-flattened pennies as souvenirs.

"Someone should be making jewelry out of these," Leedy said time and time again, but she'd seen no artists take the bait of creative opportunity, and so she began the process on her own through her fashion-diving venture that's now 10 years in the making, Fancy Pony Land.

Leedy places several dozen pennies on the rails at a time, then heading back to her studio and storefront to labor away at the often whimsical and colorful sets of clothing she designs for men, women and children.

When she hears the trains fly through on the tracks, she leaves her shop behind and sets out to find penny after flattened penny for her necklace supply.

"Some trains, whether because of speed, weight or the way they rock, shoot the pennies out further from the tracks, but usually, they're right there in the gravel along the rails," Leedy says.

To her, scouting for the newly morphed coins is one of the most fun aspects of what she does.

Lorna Leedy Lorna Leedy with Strand Penny Necklace

Photograph courtesy of Lorna Leedy

Once she's ready to bring the old money to life as jewelry, she rents time on a jewelry drill at Moonlight Gemstones, a nearby rock shop.

"I have to grind each hole in the penny to remove the burrs and sharp bits," Leedy explains. "I use a Dremel tool for that, and I use jewelry pliers to assemble the necklaces with copper jump rings."

While most pennies made after 1982 are primarily made from zinc and coated with a copper skin, Leedy has developed an unparalleled affection for the older ones she finds, as their characteristics carry a whole different feel to them.

Pennies minted from 1962, for the next 20 years, were 95 percent copper.

"The older pennies have a wonderful dark brownish patina, sometimes with bits of green, white, red or black in them, maybe from being painted or exposed to other chemical processes or from being buried in the ground or underwater," Leedy continues. "The ones with a higher copper percentage are also harder and a bit tougher to drill."

Out of her designs both fabric and metal-persuaded, the penny necklaces are one of her most popularly purchased stock materials both in her Texas storefront and on her website, with the idea of a lucky penny playing its part in how the jewelry is so valued even as the coins themselves are worth a cent.

"It looks so good against the skin," Leedy says, "and I love how copper warms as you wear it."

Resources:

Fancy Pony Land, 203 E. San Antonio St. Marfa, TX

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