Would you dive into a fountain to collect all those coins?
People love tossing a coin into a fountain. While most know that it probably won’t bring them luck or fulfill their wish, the practice persists. (What most may not is that the long-standing tradition has historical roots.)
More money than ever seems to be sinking into the shallow depths. One cent is not a big deal to most people, but all of those coins add up pretty quickly. There’s a ton of money to be had for those willing to get their feet wet and collect all the coins.
How’d throwing money into water become a thing? Where is all of the coinage going? Keep reading.
Though people don’t pray to mythological gods for rain water as much as in past centuries, coins are being tossed in fountains by the thousands every day. Emily Upton of Today I Found Out explained that our ancestors created the tradition as a way to thank a god or deity for water or to pray to them.
She explained, “The idea that drinkable water was sent from the heavens remained even as wells and fountains were built. Often, a small statue of a god could be found next to early wells and fountains, turning them into a type of shrine.”
Some people threw other things in fountains, considering what the deity or saint that the fountain was dedicated to needed. The Well of Pen Rhys in Oxford, England was filled with bits of clothing or buttons because it was believed that the water had the ability to heal disease.
The tradition remains, though the reasons for tossing coins is different. Today, there are two different types of fountains that you can throw your coins into: public and private. Public fountains are usually outdoors in parks and are maintained by non-profit organizations or the city. Private fountains are those located in malls, buildings, and restaurants.
For the Public
As far as public fountains go, it seems like so much money gets taken by opportunistic citizens that it can’t be collected by any organization. Adam Chandler of The Atlantic saw workers cleaning the coins out of a drained fountain in Madison Square Park from his office window. He walked over to ask them where the money was going to, and their answer was… revealing.
Adam wrote, “According to them, the money collected in the 149-year-old granite fountain generally goes to charity when there is enough of it; when fewer coins remain, however, he said the workers are free to keep it.” The Madison Square Park Conservancy didn’t respond to his questions about the coins.
In 2012, Bryant Park’s Director of Operations Jerome Barth told the New York Times that the coins they collect go to cleaning their fountains.
People pilfer so many coins that there’s no reason to collect them, according to Maeri Ferguson of New York’s Parks & Recreation’s Department. “We have over 50 beautiful, decorative display fountains in NYC parks,” she said. “We consistently find that most of the coins have already been removed by entrepreneurial New Yorkers and there is not a significant amount left to be collected.”
Rome is a city of grand, gorgeous old fountains. The Trevi Fountain in particular is a popular place to toss in a coin. The fountain receives thousands of dollars a day. Roberto Cercelletta famously dove for money using a magnetic wand to collect the coins daily for thirty years and made a small fortune. He was outed by the press and arrested in 2002 though.
Everyday, the fountain stops flowing for an hour so that the Catholic charity organization Caritas can collect the money. In 2016, Caritas recovered 1.4 million euro that helped feed the poor.
Private fountains are less likely to be skimmed for coins since security guards or building owners would put a stop to it. The coins are likely to be collected as profit or given away to charity.
The Mall of America in Minnesota gets about $24,000 each year from collected coins. They invite charities to apply for a portion of the money.
In 2014, Disney World donated $18,000 from their recovered coins to the Community Based Care (CBC) of Central Florida, which helps foster children after they age-out of the system.
“Every coin collected represents a precious wish,” Director of Corporate Citizenship for WDW Resort Nancy Gidusko said. “Equally inspiring is that every wish will help fulfill the dreams of young people in the foster care system and let them know that we care, that they are an important part of this community, and that they are not alone.”
Disney World has been donating their collected coins to children’s charities for over 30 years.
Do you feel the need to toss a coin into a fountain when you come across one? Tell us what your favorite fountain is in the comments and SHARE this story!