Penny (British pre-decimal coin)

Last updated
One old penny
United Kingdom
Diameter(Bronze) 31 mm
Years of minting1707–1970
British pre-decimal penny 1967 obverse.png
DesignProfile of the monarch (Elizabeth II design shown)
British pre-decimal penny 1967 reverse.png
Design Britannia (crowned letter I on earlier mintages)
Designer Leonard Charles Wyon
Design date1936

The British pre-decimal penny was a denomination of sterling coinage worth 1/240 of one pound or 1/12 of one shilling. Its symbol was d, from the Roman denarius. It was a continuation of the earlier English penny, and in Scotland it had the same monetary value as one pre-1707 Scottish shilling. The penny was originally minted in silver, but from the late 18th century it was minted in copper, and then after 1860 in bronze.


The plural of "penny" is "pence" when referring to an amount of money, and "pennies" when referring to a number of coins. [1] Thus 8d is eight pence, but "eight pennies" means specifically eight individual penny coins.

Before Decimal Day in 1971, sterling used the Carolingian monetary system (£sd), under which the largest unit was a pound (£) divisible into 20 shillings (s), each of 12 pence (d).

The penny was withdrawn in 1971 due to decimalisation, and replaced (in effect) by the decimal half new penny, with +1/2p being worth 1.2d.


The kingdoms of England and Scotland were merged by the 1707 Act of Union to form the Kingdom of Great Britain. The exchange rate between £1 Scots and £1 stg. had been fixed at 12:1 since the Union of the Crowns in 1603, and in 1707 Scots currency ceased to be legal tender, with sterling to be used throughout Great Britain. The penny replaced the Scots shilling. [2]

The design and specifications of the sterling penny were unchanged by unification, and it continued to be minted in silver after 1707. Queen Anne's reign saw pennies minted in 1708, 1709, 1710, and 1713. These issues, however, were not for general circulation, instead being minted as Maundy money. The prohibitive cost of minting silver coins had meant the size of pennies had been reduced over the years, with the minting of silver pennies for general circulation being halted in 1660. [3]

The practice of minting pennies only for Maundy money continued through the reigns of George I and George II, and into that of George III. However, by George III's reign there was a shortage of pennies such that a great many merchants and mining companies issued their own copper tokens e.g. the Parys Mining Company on Anglesey issued huge numbers of tokens (although their acceptability was strictly limited). [4]

In 1797, the government authorised Matthew Boulton to strike copper pennies and twopences at his Soho Mint in Birmingham. At the time it was believed that the face value of a coin should correspond to the value of the material it was made from, so they had respectively to contain one or two pence worth of copper (for a penny this worked out to be one ounce of copper). This requirement meant that the coins would be significantly larger than the silver pennies minted previously. The large size of the coins, combined with the thick rim where the inscription was incuse i.e. punched into the metal rather than standing proud of it, led to the coins being nicknamed "cartwheels". These pennies were minted over the course of several years, but all are marked with the date 1797. [5]

19th century

By 1802, the production of privately issued provincial tokens had ceased. [6] [7] However, in the next ten years the intrinsic value of copper rose. The return of privately minted token coinage was evident by 1811 and endemic by 1812, as more and more of the government-issued copper coinage was melted down. [7] The Royal Mint undertook a massive recoinage programme in 1816, with large quantities of gold and silver coin being minted. To thwart the further issuance of private token coinage, in 1817 an Act of Parliament was passed which forbade the manufacture of private token coinage under very severe penalties. [7] Copper coins continued to be minted after 1797, through the reigns of George III, George IV and William IV, and the early reign of Queen Victoria. These later coins were smaller than the cartwheel pennies of 1797, and contained a smaller amount of copper. [5]

In 1857 a survey by the Royal Mint found that around one third of all copper coinage was worn or mutilated, often by advertisements. Two years later Thomas Graham, the Master of the Mint, convinced William Ewart Gladstone, then Chancellor of the Exchequer, that so large a part of the copper coinage must be taken out of circulation that it was worth introducing a whole new coinage which would be "much more convenient and agreeable in use". [8] These new coins were minted in bronze, and their specifications were no longer constrained by the onerous requirement that their face value should match the value of the base metal used to make the coin. These new coins were introduced in 1860 and a year later the withdrawal of the old copper coinage began. [8]

20th century

The specifications of the bronze version of the penny were a mass of 9.45 g (0.333 oz) and a diameter of 30.86 mm (1.215 in),[ citation needed ] and remained as such for over a hundred years. Pennies were minted every year of Queen Victoria's reign, and every year of Edward VII's reign. George V pennies were produced every year to the same standard until 1922, but after a three-year gap in production the alloy composition was changed to 95.5% copper, 3% tin, and 1.5% zinc, although the weight and size remained unchanged (which was necessary because of the existence by then of large numbers of coin-operated amusement machines and public telephones). Thereafter, pennies were minted every year for the remainder of George V's reign, although only six or seven 1933 coins were minted, specifically for the king to lay under the foundation stones of new buildings; one of these coins was stolen when a church in Leeds was demolished in the 1960s, and its whereabouts is unknown. [9]

A few pennies of Edward VIII exist, dated 1937, but technically they are pattern coins i.e. coins produced for official approval, which it would probably have been due to receive about the time that the King abdicated. [10]

Pennies were not minted every year of George VI's reign: None were minted in 1941, 1942 and 1943. Pennies minted in 1950 and 1951 were for overseas use only. One 1952 penny, believed to be unique, was struck by the Royal Mint.

The worldwide shortage of tin during the Second World War caused a change in the alloy in 1944 to 97% copper, 0.5% tin, 2.5% zinc, but this bronze tarnishes unattractively, and the original 95.5% copper, 3% tin, 1.5% zinc alloy was restored in 1945.

Because of the large number of pennies in circulation there was no need to produce any more in the 1950s, however a large number of specimen sets were issued in 1953 for Elizabeth II's Coronation. At least one 1954 penny was struck, apparently for private internal purposes at the Royal Mint, but it was not until 1961 that there was a need for more pennies to be minted, and production continued each year until 1967, and afterwards (as pennies continued to be minted with the date 1967 until 1970). The 97% copper, 0.5% tin, 2.5% zinc alloy was used again for the 1960s pennies. Finally, there was an issue of proof quality coins dated 1970 produced to bid farewell to the denomination.

Types and specifications


MintedImageSizeWeightMaterialShort summary
1708–171312.0mm0.5g92.5% silver, 7.5% copper The original reverse of the British penny is the same as the reverse of the pre-1707 English penny, a crowned letter I, surrounded by the inscription MAG BRI FR ET HIB REG. The obverse features the left-facing portrait of Queen Anne, surrounded by the inscription ANNA DEI GRATIA.
1716–172712.0mm0.5g92.5% silver, 7.5% copperGeorge I coins also have a crowned I on the reverse, and busts on the obverse. George I pennies have GEORGIVS DEI GRA inscribed on the obverse and MAG BR FR ET HIB REX date on the reverse.
1729–176012.0mm0.5g92.5% silver, 7.5% copperSame design as previous, George II pennies have GEORGIVS II DEI GRATIA inscribed on the obverse and MAG BRI FR ET HIB REX date on the reverse.
1763–178612.0mm0.5g92.5% silver, 7.5% copperFirst obverse, showing a right-facing bust of the king, with the inscription GEORGIVS III DEI GRATIA. The first reverse was used until 1780 and shows a crowned "I" in high relief, with the inscription MAG BRI FR ET HIB REX date across the crown This was then modified in lower relief with the "I" being much flatter.
179212.0mm0.5g92.5% silver, 7.5% copperSecond obverse, showing an older bust of the king and the same inscription, laureated bust of the king with the inscription GEORGIUS III DEI GRATIA date This issue uses a third reverse design which is completely redesigned with a much smaller "I" under a smaller crown with the inscription running around the crown. No changes were made to the legend.
1795–180012.0mm0.5g92.5% silver, 7.5% copperSecond obverse, showing an older bust of the king and the same inscription, laureated bust of the king with the inscription GEORGIUS III DEI GRATIA date This issue uses a fourth reverse design which is similar to the one used between 1763 and 1780 but with a redesigned crown.
1817–182012.0mm0.5g92.5% silver, 7.5% copperThe fifth reverse, used from 1817 onwards, shows the crowned "I" with the inscription BRITANNIARUM REX FID DEF date.


MintedImageSizeWeightMaterialShort summary
179736.0mm28.3g100% copper [11] The "cartwheel" penny was minted in copper, with a weight of 1  oz and a diameter of 1.4  in. [5] The obverse features a right-facing portrait of George III, and incused into the rim are the words GEORGIUS III·D·G·REX. The initial K appears on the lowest fold of the drapery at the base of the effigy, indicating that the design is the work of the German engraver Conrad Heinrich Küchler. [5] The reverse shows the left-facing seated figure of Britannia, with a trident held loosely in her left hand, and an olive branch in her outstretched right. There are waves about her feet, with a small ship to the left and a Union Jack shield below and to the right. Above, on the rim, is incused the word BRITANNIA, and on the rim below the image is incused the date 1797. The reverse was also designed by Kuchler. [5] The word SOHO appears next to the shield, indicating that the coin came from the Soho Mint. [4]
1806–180734.0mm18.8g100% copper [12]
1825–182734.0mm18.8g100% copper [13] The obverse of George IV's penny shows a highly regarded left-facing laureated head engraved by William Wyon after the king expressed a dislike for the one engraved by Benedetto Pistrucci for use on the farthing, inscribed GEORGIUS IV DEI GRATIA date, while the reverse shows a right-facing seated Britannia with a shield and trident, inscribed BRITANNIAR REX FID DEF.
1831–1837 [14] GREAT BRITAIN, WILLIAM IV, 1831 -HALFPENNY b - Flickr - woody1778a.jpg GREAT BRITAIN, WILLIAM IV, 1831 -HALFPENNY a - Flickr - woody1778a.jpg 34.0mm18.6g100% copper [14] The pennies of King William IV are very similar to his predecessors', also being engraved by William Wyon. The king's head faces right, inscribed GULIELMUS IIII DEI GRATIA date, while the reverse is identical to the George IV penny.
1841–1860 Penny Great Britain, 1858, Victoria.jpg 34.0mm18.8g100% copper [15] The Young Head bust of Victoria was designed by William Wyon who died in 1851.


MintedImageSizeWeightMaterialShort summary
1860–1894 Penny Great Britain, 1888, Victoria.jpg 31.0mm9.4g95% copper, 4% tin, 1% zinc The second bust of Victoria was designed by Leonard Charles Wyon. The reverse of the bronze version of the coin features a seated Britannia, holding a trident, with the words ONE PENNY to either side.
1895–1901 Penny Great Britain, 1897, Victoria.jpg 31.0mm9.4g95% copper, 4% tin, 1% zinc The third and final Old Head (or "veiled head") bust was designed by Thomas Brock. [16]
1902–1910 GREAT BRITAIN, EDWARD VII, 1905 -HALFPENNY b - Flickr - woody1778a.jpg GREAT BRITAIN, EDWARD VII, 1905 -HALFPENNY a - Flickr - woody1778a.jpg 31.0mm9.4g95% copper, 4% tin, 1% zinc During the reign of King Edward VII the lighthouse and ship flanking Britannia were removed and the sea level design was altered to be higher.
1911–1922 One Penny 1912-2.JPG One Penny 1912.JPG 31.0mm9.4g95% copper, 4% tin, 1% zinc
1925–1936 [lower-alpha 1] British pre-decimal penny 1936 obverse.png British pre-decimal penny 1936 reverse.png 31.0mm9.4g95.5% copper, 3% tin, 1.5% zinc
1937–1943 1937 George VI penny.jpg 31.0mm9.4g95.5% copper, 3% tin, 1.5% zincDuring the reign of George VI the lighthouse was restored on the reverse to the left of Britannia, and her shield was turned upright.
1944No change in design31.0mm9.4g97% copper, 0.5% tin, 2.5% zinc
1945–1952No change in design31.0mm9.4g95.5% copper, 3% tin, 1.5% zincGeorge 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.
1953–1954Same design as below31.0mm9.4g95.5% copper, 3% tin, 1.5% zincPennies were rarely minted during the early reign of Elizabeth II, but those minted for the coronation in 1953 feature the inscription ELIZABETH II DEI GRA BRITT OMN REGINA F D.
1961–1970 British pre-decimal penny 1967 obverse.png British pre-decimal penny 1967 reverse.png 31.0mm9.4g97% copper, 0.5% tin, 2.5% zincRegular minting of pennies was resumed in 1961. Pennies minted after this date bear the inscription ELIZABETH II DEI GRATIA REGINA F D.

Pennies by period


Note: The mintage figures where "H" or "KN" follows the year relates to coins minted with that particular mint mark. "H" refers to the Heaton Mint, and "KN" to the King's Norton Mint, both of which were contracted to mint supplemental pennies on occasion. [24]

From 1825 to 1970 a total of 3,629,384,952 pennies were minted.

See also


  1. King George V's bust was modified in 1927 to be smaller

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