Halfpenny (British pre-decimal coin)

Last updated

One old halfpenny
United Kingdom
Value+1/2d sterling
Mass(1860–1967) 5.67 g
Diameter(1860–1967) 25.48 mm
Composition(1672–1860) Copper
(1860–1967) Bronze
Years of minting1672–1967
British pre-decimal halfpenny 1967 obverse.png
DesignProfile of the monarch (Elizabeth II design shown)
Designer Mary Gillick
Design date1953
British pre-decimal halfpenny 1967 reverse.png
Design Golden Hind (Britannia on earlier mintages)
Designer Thomas Humphrey Paget
Design date1937

The British pre-decimal halfpenny (1/2d), (pronounced /ˈhpəni/ ), historically also known as the obol [1] and once abbreviated ob. (from the Latin 'obulus'), [2] was a coin worth 1/480 of one pound, 1/24 of one shilling, or 1/2 of one penny sterling. Originally the halfpenny was minted in copper, but after 1860 it was minted in bronze. In the run-up to decimalisation it ceased to be legal tender from 31 July 1969. [3] The halfpenny featured two different designs on its reverse during its years in circulation. From 1672 until 1936 the image of Britannia appeared on the reverse, and from 1937 onwards the image of the Golden Hind appeared. [4] Like all British coinage, it bore the portrait of the monarch on the obverse. [5]


"Halfpenny" was colloquially written ha’penny, and "1+1/2d" was spoken as "a penny ha’penny" /əˈpɛniˈhpni/ or three ha’pence /θrˈhpəns/ . [6] "Halfpenny" is a rare example of a word in the English language that has a silent 'f'.

Before Decimal Day in 1971, sterling used the Carolingian monetary system, under which the largest unit was a pound divided into 20 shillings, each of 12 pence. Each penny was further divided into 4 farthings, thus a pound contained 480 halfpennies and a shilling contained 24 halfpennies.


Original reverse: 1717-1936 British pre-decimal halfpenny 1936 reverse.png
Original reverse: 1717–1936

The original reverse of the bronze version of the coin, designed by Leonard Charles Wyon, is a seated Britannia, holding a trident, with the words HALF PENNY to either side. Issues before 1895 also feature a lighthouse to Britannia's left and a ship to her right. Various minor adjustments to the level of the sea depicted around Britannia, and the angle of her trident were also made over the years. Some issues feature toothed edges, while others feature beading.

Over the years, various different obverses were used. Edward VII, George V, George VI and Elizabeth II each had a single obverse for halfpennies produced during their respective reigns. Over the long reign of Queen Victoria two different obverses were used, but the short reign of Edward VIII meant no halfpennies bearing his likeness were ever issued.

During Victoria's reign, the halfpenny was first issued with the so-called 'bun head', or 'draped bust' of Queen Victoria on the obverse. The inscription around the bust read VICTORIA D G BRITT REG F D. This was replaced in 1895 by the 'old head', or 'veiled bust'. The inscription on these coins read VICTORIA DEI GRA BRITT REGINA FID DEF IND IMP.

Illustrated Chips comic in 1896, sold for a halfpenny Cover of Illustrated Chips 298 (1896).jpg
Illustrated Chips comic in 1896, sold for a halfpenny

Coins issued during the reign of Edward VII feature his likeness and bear the inscription EDWARDVS VII DEI GRA BRITT OMN REX FID DEF IND IMP. Similarly, those issued during the reign of George V feature his likeness and bear the inscription GEORGIVS V DEI GRA BRITT OMN REX FID DEF IND IMP.

A halfpenny of King Edward VIII (1936) does exist, dated 1937, but technically it is a pattern coin i.e. one produced for official approval; it would probably have been due to receive this approval at about the time that the King abdicated. The obverse shows a left-facing portrait of the king (who considered this to be his better side, and consequently broke the tradition of alternating the direction in which the monarch faces on coins – some viewed this as indicating bad luck for the reign); the inscription on the obverse is EDWARDVS VIII D G BR OMN REX F D IND IMP.

The pattern coin of Edward VIII and regular issue halfpennies of George VI and Elizabeth II feature a redesigned reverse displaying Sir Francis Drake's ship the Golden Hind .

George VI issue coins feature the inscription GEORGIVS VI D G BR OMN REX F D IND IMP before 1949, and GEORGIVS VI D G BR OMN REX FIDEI DEF thereafter. Unlike the penny, halfpennies were minted throughout the early reign of Elizabeth II, bearing the inscription ELIZABETH II DEI GRA BRITT OMN REGINA F D in 1953, and ELIZABETH II DEI GRATIA REGINA F D thereafter.



Ha’porth : British English i.e. 'halfpenny-worth' or 'halfpennyworth' pronounced /ˈhɛɪpəθ/ in Conservative RP, or /ˈhpəθ/ in Modern or Contemporary RP. [7] [8]

In literal use usually written out in full [9] [10] [11] although still never pronounced phonetically: [12] [13] [14] e.g. "A halfpennyworth of chips." [15] In figurative use usually said disparagingly: e.g. "I've been dying for somebody with a ha’porth of wit and intelligence to talk to." [16] "…and saying it doesn't make a halfpennyworth of difference!" [17] [18] (from Alan Bennett's A lady of Letters, written and produced in 1987, some sixteen years after decimalisation and three years after the New Halfpenny—(i.e. the decimal 1/2p)—had been demonetised and withdrawn from circulation, thus further illustrating the continued traditional or idiomatic two-syllable pronunciation). Also used in the once common phrase: "daft ha’porth." [9] [10] [11] [19]

See also

Related Research Articles

Coins of the pound sterling British current and historic coinage

The standard circulating coinage of the United Kingdom, British Crown Dependencies and British Overseas Territories is denominated in pennies and pounds sterling, and ranges in value from one penny sterling to two pounds. Since decimalisation, on 15 February 1971, the pound has been divided into 100 (new) pence. Before decimalisation, twelve pence made a shilling, and twenty shillings made a pound.

Half farthing Former coin of the United Kingdom and other territories

The British half farthing was a coin worth 1/1,920 of a pound, 1/96 of a shilling, or 1/8 of a penny sterling. It was minted in copper for use in Ceylon, but in 1842 was also declared legal tender in the United Kingdom. Two different obverses were used. Like all British coinage, it bore the portrait of the monarch on the obverse.

Third farthing Former piece of sterling coinage

The British third farthing was a coin worth 1/2880 of a pound, 1/144 of a shilling, or 1/12 of a penny sterling. It was produced in various years between 1827 and 1913.

History of the English penny (1154–1485)

This is the history of the English penny from the years 1154 to 1485.

History of the British penny (1714–1901) History of the British penny during the Hanoverian era

The penny of Great Britain and the United Kingdom from 1714 to 1901, the period in which the House of Hanover reigned, saw the transformation of the penny from a little-used small silver coin to the bronze piece recognisable to modern-day Britons. All bear the portrait of the monarch on the obverse; copper and bronze pennies have a depiction of Britannia, the female personification of Britain, on the reverse.

History of the British penny (1901–1970) History of the pre-decimal British penny during the 20th century

The British penny, a large, pre-decimal coin which continued the series of pennies which began in about the year 700, was struck intermittently during the 20th century until its withdrawal from circulation after 1970. From 1901 to 1970, the obverse of the bronze coin depicted the monarch who was reigning at the start of the year. The reverse, which featured an image of Britannia seated with shield, trident, and helm, was created by Leonard Charles Wyon based on an earlier design by his father, William Wyon. The coins were also used in British colonies and dominions that had not issued their own coins.

Florin (British coin) Former coin of the United Kingdom and other territories

The British florin, or two-shilling piece was a denomination of sterling coinage worth 1/10 of one pound, or 24 pence. It was issued from 1849 until 1967, with a final issue for collectors dated 1970. It was the last coin circulating immediately prior to decimalisation to be demonetised, in 1993, having for a quarter of a century circulated alongside the ten-pence piece, identical in specifications and value.

Farthing (British coin) Former coin of the United Kingdom and other territories

The British farthing historically abbreviated qua., was a coin worth 1/960 of one pound, 1/48 of one shilling, or 1/4 of one penny sterling. It was minted in copper and later in bronze, and replaced the earlier English farthings.

Threepence (British coin) Former coin of the United Kingdom and other territories

The British threepence (3d) piece, usually simply known as a threepence, thruppence, or thruppenny bit, was a coin worth 1/80 of one pound or 1/4 of one shilling sterling. It was used in the United Kingdom, and earlier in Great Britain and England. Similar denominations were later used throughout the British Empire and Commonwealth countries, notably in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.

The five pound gold coin is a British coin with a nominal value of five pounds sterling, produced in several periods since the early 19th century. Since 1990 it is also known as the five-sovereign piece or quintuple sovereign as it is equivalent to five sovereign coins and shares the alloy and design features of the sovereign.

Dei Gratia Regina is a Latin title meaning By the Grace of God, Queen. The male equivalent is Dei Gratia Rex meaning By the Grace of God, King.

The British farthing was a British coin worth a quarter of an old penny. It ceased to be struck after 1956 and was demonetised from 1 January 1961.

The pound was the currency of the Australian Territory of New Guinea between 1915 and 1966, and replaced the New Guinean mark when Australia occupied the former German colony at the end of World War I. The New Guinean pound was subdivided into 20 shillings, each of 12 pence, and was equal to the Australian pound.

History of the halfpenny

The British halfpenny coin was worth 1/480th of a pound sterling. At first in its 700-year history it was made from silver, but as the value of silver increased the coin was made from base metals. It was finally abandoned in 1969 as part of the process of decimalising the British currency. "Halfpenny", colloquially written ha'penny, was pronounced HAY-pə-nee; "1 ½d" was spoken as a penny ha'penny or three ha'pence.

The threepence or threepenny bit was a denomination of currency used by various jurisdictions in England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales, valued at 1/80 of a pound or ¼ of a shilling until decimalisation of the pound sterling and Irish pound in 1971. It was also used in some parts of the British Empire, notably Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.

Imperial Service Medal Award

The Imperial Service Medal (ISM) is a medal affiliated with the Imperial Service Order. The medal was established under the statutes of the Imperial Service Order, on 8 August 1902, by King Edward VII, with the first awards appearing in the London Gazette in May 1903.

Meritorious Service Medal (United Kingdom) British military decoration

The Meritorious Service Medal (MSM) is a British medal awarded to sergeants and warrant officers of the British armed forces for long and meritorious service. From 1916 to 1928, eligibility was extended to cover both valuable services by selected other ranks irrespective of length of service, and for gallantry not in the face of the enemy.

Farthing (English coin)

A farthing was a coin of the Kingdom of England worth one quarter of a penny, 1960 of a pound sterling. Such coins were first minted in England in silver in the 13th century, and continued to be used until the Kingdom of England was merged into the new Kingdom of Great Britain in 1707.

Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve Long Service and Good Conduct Medal British Empire naval volunteer medal for part time ratings

The Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve Long Service and Good Conduct Medal, initially designated the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve Long Service Medal, was instituted in 1908. It could be awarded to part-time ratings in the United Kingdom's Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve after twelve years of service and good conduct. The medal was a Naval version of the Volunteer Long Service Medal and its successor, the Territorial Force Efficiency Medal.

Double sovereign British gold coin

The double sovereign is a gold coin of the United Kingdom, with a nominal value of 2 pounds or 40 shillings sterling.


  1. Albert Peel, Seconde parte of a register: being a calendar of manuscripts under that title (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 2010), p. 175, note.
  2. "University of Nottingham Manuscripts and Special Collections 'Research Guidance' Weights and Measures § Money" . Retrieved 12 March 2014.
  3. "Halfpenny (Pre-decimal), Coin Type from United Kingdom" . Retrieved 21 April 2017.
  4. "Halfpenny and Farthing". Royal Mint Museum. Retrieved 10 May 2014.
  5. Michael, Thomas and Cuhaj, George S. Collecting World Coins: Circulating Issues 1901 – Present. Krause Publications, 2001.
  6. "Halfpenny" . Oxford English Dictionary (Online ed.). Oxford University Press. (Subscription or participating institution membership required.)
  7. "Halfpennyworth (with IPA and audio files)". Lexico: Powered by Oxford. Archived from the original on 2 October 2019. (via Internet Archive WayBack Machine: 2 Oct 2019)
  8. Fowler's Dictionary of Modern English Usage: Page 363, No. 6 . Oxford University Press. 26 March 2015. ISBN   9780191064944 . Retrieved 26 March 2015.
  9. 1 2 "Prof. John Wells's Phonetic Blog".'Did I hear you "aright"?’
  10. 1 2 "Professor John Wells, University College London".PhD General Linguistics, UCL Psychology & Language Sciences
  11. 1 2 "University College London Dept. of Psychology and Language Sciences, Faculty of Brain Sciences". Archived from the original on 9 November 2012.Professor Emeritus John Christopher Wells' C.V. (via Internet Archive)
  12. "Why does the word Halfpennyworth only have One Syllable?: It doesn't. Historically it was pronounced with Two". Gareth Roberts, Linguistics Professor, PhD, U. of Edinburgh (2010). Retrieved 15 May 2017.
  13. "University of Pennsylvania, Department of Linguistics: Assistant Professor Gareth Roberts" . Retrieved 11 June 2019.
  14. "Dr Gareth Roberts, PhD Linguistics, The University of Edinburgh, 2010" . Retrieved 17 July 2014.
  15. "Blackadder Goes Forth "Corporal Punishment" (Series 4 No. 2)" via YouTube.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  16. Archived at Ghostarchive and the Wayback Machine : "Bless Me Father "Baptism of Fire" (Series 1 Episode 1)" via YouTube.
  17. Archived at Ghostarchive and the Wayback Machine : "Talking Heads "A lady of Letters" With Patricia Routledge (Part 3)" via YouTube..
  18. "Talking Heads by Alan Bennett No. 3 "A lady of Letters" (Runtime 33.24)". circa 22 min. & 33. sec. in.
  19. Archived at Ghostarchive and the Wayback Machine : "BBC Breakfast featurette on "Ethel and Ernest" (Originally aired 2016)" via YouTube.