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There was nothing penny ante about the one cent piece in the mid-19th century: its buying power was substantial. The famed King Ranch in Texas, for example, came into being in 1853 when steamboat captain Richard King bought 15,500 acres for just $300—less than two cents per acre. For working-class Americans, 10 cents an hour was a living wage, so people understandably watched their “pennies” closely.

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