Penny Suit Man

A couple weeks ago I finally saw Penny Suit Man.

Penny Suit Man is one of Philly’s more elusive street characters. Like the Toynbee tiler, Mister James the El-Prophet*, the elderly lady at 12th and Market that dresses like a school girl and smears lipstick across her face, Sign Guy**, Jesus is White guy, the Zulu Warrior and many others, Penny Suit man is one small piece of what makes this city so beautifully fucked up.

For some reason, most of these characters are generally hemmed in by 8th and Broad, Sansom and Arch. Spotted at one of those mosaic benches near 12th and Filbert, Penny Suit Man fit the mold.

But what is Penny Suit Man?

Very simply, he wears an armored suit made of pennies. It looks like a normal fabric suit, with thousands and thousands of coins glued to it. His shoes are enormous, with a 3 or 4 inches of armor attached. They must weigh 10 pounds each.

While passing by, I was filled with glee. I’d heard of him but had never actually seen him. He sat alone, shimmering in the streetlights like some southern gentleman wearing a suit made out of pennies. I tried to catch his eye and send some kind of non-verbal acknowledgment to all his hard work, but he was too busy staring at my girlfriend with a disquieting focus of sexual rage. Penny Suit Man might have a cool suit, but he’s also a little weird… and kind of frightening.


*Mister James sticks religious notes in schedule holders on the Market Frankford line. Double-sided and written in magic marker, the notes include notable quotes like: “Some rich + educated Humans are partakers with Satans own who goes around stealing killing poor folks that sleep walk in these filthy, nasty, smelly, dirty, fowl, gross, diseased, germed filled, cursed, lousy, unjust, uncooth, odd, weird, grotesk, repugnant, devil infested streets.” Here’s a scan of one of Mister James’s notes, scanned by Justin Duerr:

**Sign Guy stays West of Broad, generally in the vicinity of 17th and Chestnut. I saw him last week at 20th and Market as he worked a large sign into his cap. Here’s a photo of sign guy taken by Albert Yee:

9 Comments on “Penny Suit Man

  1. Oh man, the 12th and Market lady. I see her at least once a week on my walk to work.

    While grabbing some food at the 4th St Deli, I saw a possible new character. Viking Bicycle Man. He was riding a bike around Queen Village, you guessed it, dressed as a viking. Horned helmet, shield, sword, the works. You’d have loved it.

  2. A) Does anyone have a picture of Penny Man?

    B) Have you ever seen Smiley Guy? He’s a black guy who rides around on a bicycle, often in West Philly/University City. The bike has a big antenna coming off the back, etc.

    I’m meaning to get a picture of him but I really want to see this Penny Guy!

  3. I know Smiley Guy! That is, if he is who I think you’re talking about.

  4. I used to see Penny Guy on the market frankford getting out at 69th st. a lot. Although he looks funny, he is pretty reasonable to talk to. I found him quite sociable and often appreciative of positive comments. He volunteered how much it cost to make the outfit, and he told us how much it weighed. Both were fairly considerable, but i can’t remember.

    by the way, people that are fascinated with this stuff owe it to themselves to go visit the American Visionary Art Museum. It is chock full with this kind of stuff. It’s in Baltimore.

  5. i forgot to say that i collected a few of the scrawled subway messages. is mr. james the same as “sign guy?”

  6. Thanks for sharing. If it’s not in Philly, Baltimore is the next best thing.

    I don’t know what was up with him a few weeks ago, but he very consciously averted my eyes with a very transparent, extremely angry look on his face.

    Mister James and Sign Guy are 2 different people.

  7. Gives a whole new meaning to, “A penny saved is a penny eared”! Also a whole lot of, “In God we trust”!

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