I was thinking of this expression early on this morning and conjured up an image of a carefree woman with two pennies in her pocket and she with nothing better to do than to rub them together in a distracted sort of way while holding on to her much more valuable wallet with substantial amount of notes in it tucked securely away in the recesses of her great big coat.
Then I grabbed another image from somewhere; that of a very poor man with nothing but the two pennies, and he rubbing them together, also in a distracted sort of way, wondering how best to spend his last coppers. Of course this scene took place back at least 100 years ago when pennies had more value. They wouldn’t be much use nowadays
Both people could do better to have a worry stone in their hands rubbing it between their fingers, one worrying about how safe her wallet is and whether that man over there with a forlorn look in his face might attack her and demand she hand over her purse which he saw her put into some inside pocket, and the other worrying if he will have enough to buy that lovely loaf of bread in the window and the smell wafting out through the main door, frustrating him, tantalising him with its strong sweet fragrance and the promise of a full belly. He looks over at the woman over yonder and sees she has two pennies to rub together, just like him, and throws her over his two so that at least she will eat tonight. And she is insulted and shouts and hurls abuse at him.
No one has won in this scene. So much for rubbing pennies together. Give me a couple of €50 bills and I’ll gladly rub them together, not for too long though. I want to spend them before they wear away with all that rubbing.