As you may know, Snapple always prints a “Real Fact” on the underside of their bottle caps. I’ve read a great many of them in the past few months and I’ve learned a lot – or have I? I came across one today that manages to cram a dizzying array of incorrect statements and ideas into a simple 10-word phrase. Here it is:
The first penny had the motto “Mind your own business”
Oh really? Let me start with the little mistakes. The first penny was minted over a thousand years ago and contained no inscription even vaguely resembling “Mind your own business.” “Penny” properly refers to the British one pence coin, or to a low denomination coin in various other European countries. The U.S. coin worth 1/100th of a dollar is properly referred to as a cent, not a penny, though it is often referred to as such. Still, one has to think they are referring to United States coinage. Shown to the right is the first U.S. one cent piece from 1793. As you can see, it does not match the description offered by Snapple.
So what are they talking about? Surely they are referring to the 1787 Fugio cent.
This is it. It was not issued by the United States Mint, since that organization did not yet exist. At this time, each individual colony issued its own coinage. This coin (so legend goes) was designed by Benjamin Franklin and issued by the Continental Congress. It was issued only that one year and it never circulated widely.
This brings us to the biggest problem with the Snapple claim – as you can see, the coin does not say “Mind your own business.” It says “Mind your business,” which carries a rather more mundane connotation.
I realize that this is much ado about very little, but as a life-long numismatist, this hits close to home for me.
Some additional research turned up a few additional howlers from the Snapple “Real Fact” archive. Most of their items are entirely true. For example, Real Fact #424: “The ‘ZIP’ in ZIP Code stands for Zone Improvement Plan.” Completely true. But then we read Real Fact #36: “A duck’s quack doesn’t echo.” Completely false. It does echo. Is anyone surprised at this? If you’d like some additional info on this point, snopes.com has a fun entry on the topic right here.
So in the end, I guess I’m the bearer of bad tidings: You can’t believe everything you read, even if it’s printed on a bottle cap.