Penny (British pre-decimal coin)

Last updated
One old penny
Value1/240 pound sterling
1/12 shilling
Diameter(Bronze) 31 mm
Composition(1707–1796) Silver
(1797–1859) Copper
(1860–1970) Bronze
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 I on earlier mintages)
Designer Leonard Charles Wyon
Design date1936

The pre-decimal penny (1d) was a coin worth 1/240 of a pound sterling. 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 twelve pence made a shilling, and twenty shillings made a pound, hence 240 pence in one pound. Values less than a pound were usually written in terms of shillings and pence, e.g. 42 pence would be three shillings and sixpence (3/6), pronounced "three and six" or “three and sixpence”. Values of less than a shilling were simply written in terms of pence, e.g. eight pence would be 8d, and conventionally written out as one word, “fourpence”, “sixpence”, etc.

This version of the penny was made obsolete in 1971 by decimalisation, and was replaced by the decimal penny, worth 2.4 old pence.


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 the pound scots and the English pound sterling had been fixed at 12:1 since the Union of the Crowns in 1603, and in 1707 the pound Scots ceased to be legal tender, with the pound sterling to be used throughout Great Britain. The penny replaced the shilling of the pound Scots. [2]

The design and specifications of the English penny were unchanged by the Union, 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

Penny of Queen Victoria, 1862. Note the ship at right, absent in later mintages. GREAT BRITAIN, VICTORIA 1862 -PENNY a - Flickr - woody1778a.jpg
Penny of Queen Victoria, 1862. Note the ship at right, absent in later mintages.

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

Because of their relatively large size and low value, pennies were a favourite of coin engravers. Hobo coin British penny 1891.jpg
Because of their relatively large size and low value, pennies were a favourite of coin engravers.

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]

A 1937 George VI penny. Note the change in design of the reverse, with the addition of the lighthouse and shield square which is not angled. 1937 George VI penny.jpg
A 1937 George VI penny. Note the change in design of the reverse, with the addition of the lighthouse and shield square which is not angled.

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.

DatesCompositionMass (grams)Diameter (mm)
1707–1796 Sterling (92.5%) silver 0.512
1797 Copper 28.336
1860–1922 Bronze (95% Cu, 4% Sn, 1% Zn)9.431
1925–1943, 1945–1954 Bronze (95.5% Cu, 3% Sn, 1.5% Zn)9.431
1944, 1961–1970 Bronze (97% Cu, 0.5% Sn, 2.5% Zn)9.4



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. George I and George II 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. George II pennies have GEORGIVS II DEI GRATIA inscribed on the obverse and MAG BRI FR ET HIB REX date on the reverse.

During George III's reign three different obverses and five different reverses appeared on the penny. No silver pennies were minted at all between 1800 and 1817. The first obverse, showing a right-facing bust of the king, with the inscription GEORGIVS III DEI GRATIA, was used in 1763, 1766, 1770, 1772, 1776, 1779, 1780, 1781, 1784, and 1786; the second obverse, showing an older bust of the king and the same inscription, was used in 1792, 1795, and 1800, while the third, laureated bust of the king with the inscription GEORGIUS III DEI GRATIA date was used in 1817, 1818 and 1820. The first reverse, used until 1780, showed the crowned "I" in high relief, with the inscription MAG BRI FR ET HIB REX date across the crown; the second reverse, used until 1786, was similar but in lower relief, the "I" being much flatter; the third reverse, used in 1792 only, was completely redesigned with a much smaller "I" under a smaller crown with the inscription running around the crown, with the same legend as before. The fourth reverse, used in 1795 and 1800 was similar to the first but with a redesigned crown. The fifth reverse, used from 1817 onwards, showed the crowned "I" with the inscription BRITANNIARUM REX FID DEF date.


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]

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. 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.

Just three portraits of Queen Victoria were used on the penny in the whole of her reign: the Young Head (used from 1838 to 1859, with rare copper issues from 1860 - the 60 is struck over 59), designed by William Wyon (who died in 1851), whose eldest son Leonard Charles Wyon (1826–91) designed the bronze coinage of 1860 with the second ("bun") head (1860–1894 with scarce issues of the farthing in 1895), and finally the Old Head (or "veiled head") designed by Thomas Brock which was used on the penny from 1895 to 1901. Unlike the silver coinage, the Jubilee Head was not used on the bronze coins.

The first obverse showed the Young Head of the Queen, facing left, with the inscription VICTORIA DEI GRATIA with the date beneath the head; this obverse was used (with a slight alteration in 1858) until the end of the copper penny issue in 1860. Copper pennies were issued for all years between 1839 and 1860 except 1840, 1842, 1850, and 1852. The reverse of the coin for the whole of this period was similar to the William IV issue, with a seated right-facing Britannia holding a trident, except that most years the head of the trident was ornamented; the inscription read BRITANNIAR REG FID DEF.


The reverse of the bronze version of the coin, designed by Leonard Charles Wyon, is a seated Britannia, holding a trident, with the words ONE 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 pennies produced during their respective reigns. Over the long reign of Queen Victoria two different obverses were used, and the short reign of Edward VIII meant no pennies bearing his likeness were ever issued.

The bronze penny 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". [11] The inscription on these coins read VICTORIA DEI GRA BRITT REGINA FID DEF IND IMP.

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.

The obverse of the Edward VIII proof penny 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.

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. Pennies 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. Regular 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. [19]

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

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 pounds sterling, and, since the introduction of the two-pound coin in 1994, ranges in value from one penny 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. British coins are minted by the Royal Mint in Llantrisant, Wales. The Royal Mint also commissions the coins' designs.

Half farthing

The British half farthing coin, usually simply known as a half farthing, was a unit of currency equaling 1/1,920 of a pound sterling, or one eighth of a penny. It was minted in copper for use in Ceylon, but in 1842 they were 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

The third farthing was a British coin which was produced in various years between 1827 and 1913.

History of the English penny (1603–1707) aspect of history

The history of the English penny from 1603 to 1707 covers the period of the House of Stuart, up to the Acts of Union of 1707 which brought about the Union of the Kingdom of England with the Kingdom of Scotland.

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

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

Florin (British coin) British coin issued from 1849 until 1970, worth two shillings (one tenth of a pound sterling)

The British florin, or two shilling coin, was issued from 1849 until 1967, with a final issue for collectors dated 1970. Valued at one tenth of a pound, 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.

Halfpenny (British pre-decimal coin) Pre-decimal unit of currency that equalled half of a penny or 1⁄480 of a pound sterling

The British pre-decimal halfpenny coin, usually simply known as a ha'penny, historically occasionally also as the obol and once abbreviated ‘ob’ , was a unit of currency that equalled half of a penny or 1/480 of a pound 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. 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. Like all British coinage, it bore the portrait of the monarch on the obverse.

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

The British farthing coin, from Old English fēorðing, from fēorða, a fourth, was a unit of currency of one quarter of a penny, or 1/960 of a pound sterling. It was minted in bronze, and replaced the earlier copper farthings. It was used during the reigns of six monarchs: Victoria, Edward VII, George V, Edward VIII, George VI and Elizabeth II, but ceased to be legal tender on 1 January 1961. However, in the Falkland Islands, the Falkland Islands Dependencies, and the British Antarctic Territory, the farthing remained legal tender until 31 October 1971, according to an official proclamation published in the London Gazette 9 October 1970. It featured two different designs on its reverse during its 100 years in circulation: from 1860 until 1936, the image of Britannia; and from 1937 onwards, the image of a wren. Like all British coinage, it bore the portrait of the monarch on the obverse.

Threepence (British coin) Predecimal British coin worth 1/80 of a pound sterling

The British threepence (3d) coin, usually simply known as a threepence, thruppence, or thruppenny bit, was a unit of currency equaling one eightieth of a pound sterling, or three old pence sterling. It was used in the United Kingdom, and earlier in Great Britain and England. Similar denominations were later used throughout the British Empire, notably in Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa.

The five pounds gold coin is a British coin, 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.

Two guineas (British coin)

The Two Guineas was a gold coin first minted in England in 1664 with a face value of forty shillings. The source of the gold used, also provided the coin its name - the "Guinea", with the regular addition of an elephant or castle symbol on the earliest issues to denote bullion supplied by the Royal African Company. For most of its period of production, the coin weighed between 16.7-16.8 grams and was 31-32 millimetres in diameter, although the earliest coins of Charles II were about 0.1 grams lighter and 1 millimetre smaller.

Guinea (coin) British gold coin minted between 1663 and 1814

The guinea was a coin of approximately one-quarter ounce of gold that was minted in Great Britain between 1663 and 1814. The name came from the Guinea region in West Africa, where much of the gold used to make the coins originated. It was the first English machine-struck gold coin, originally worth one pound sterling, equal to twenty shillings, but rises in the price of gold relative to silver caused the value of the guinea to increase, at times to as high as thirty shillings. From 1717 to 1816, its value was officially fixed at twenty-one shillings.

Quarter guinea

The Quarter guinea was a British coin minted only in the years 1718 and 1762. As the name implies, it was valued at one-fourth of a guinea, which at that time was worth twenty-one shillings. The quarter guinea therefore was valued at five shillings and threepence.

The half guinea gold coin of the Kingdom of England and later of Great Britain was first produced in 1669, some years after the Guinea entered circulation. It was officially eliminated in the Great Recoinage of 1816, although, like the guinea, it was used in quoting prices until decimalisation.

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.

History of the halfpenny aspect of history

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.

Fourpence (British coin)

The pre-decimal fourpence (4d), sometimes known as a groat or fourpenny bit, was a coin worth one sixtieth of a pound sterling, or four pence. The coin was also known as a joey after the MP Joseph Hume, who spoke in favour of its introduction. It was a revival of the pre-Union coin.

Double sovereign

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


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