pre-decimal-penny1963

pre-decimal-penny1963

By Wendy Hughes

 

I hope all our readers, throughout the world enjoyed the festive season and I hope you will all have a healthy and prosperous New Year.

 

I am old enough to remember one of the highlights of the New Year, deciding what to do the new shiny old penny that ‘Santa’ had kindly put in my socking.  Did I save it or put it with my other Christmas money, or blow it all on a penny chew? Big decisions for a child to make, but with the demise of the large old penny back in September 1971 have you ever wondered about the story of penny?

Silver-penny-of-William-the-Conqueror-reverse

Silver-penny-of-William-the-Conqueror-reverse

The penny has a vast numismatic history that could not be fully explained in a short article, but it does bring to life all those kings and queens we hear so much about in English history.

 

The penny is the oldest coin we have and it is the only coin that has been struck in every reign, either in gold, silver, copper or bronze since AD765.  Gold nobles, pounds, sovereigns, silver crowns, half-crowns and florins have come and gone, but out humble penny has remained.

back-of-an-old1898-penny

back-of-an-old1898-penny

It is claimed that it was first introduced into the country by Heaberht who was King of Kent when England was divided into several kingdoms.  Other sources claim that it was Offa (757-796) the King of Mercia and conqueror of Kent who made the penny popular and continued to keep up its production.  The pennies that Offa produced were of a very high standard both in terms of workmanship and design.

English-hammered-penny

English-hammered-penny

Soon the striking of pennies spread to other regions and the penny became the accepted unit of currency for the whole of England.  During this time the penny was a silver coin and it varied in size from approximately that of the present day five pence to that of the pre-decimal sixpence.  It was struck by hand and was a very thin coin, but by the time the kingdoms amalgamated in AD955, pennies were being struck in many mints throughout the country and the same of the mint town began to appear on the coins, usually in an abbreviated form.  From AD973 to 1066 no less that 87 towns had their own mints.

English-one-penny-1903

English-one-penny-1903

In 1180 Henry II introduced the short cross penny.  These were designed by Phillip Armey who was a goldsmith from Anjou in France.  As the name implies these were so called because the reverse depicted a short limbed cross which extended only to the inner circle.  This design was used throughout the reigns of Richard 1, John and Henry III until 1247 when the ‘long cross penny was introduced to prevent clipping of the silver from the edges of the coin.  If one end of any of the arms of the cross were cut the coin ceased to be legal tender.  This penny also had the added advantage of being easily  divided into halves and quarters to make halfpennies and farthings, however this custom stopped when round coins of these dominations were introduced late in the 13th century when Edward I came to the throne.

George-III-Penny 1797

George-III-Penny 1797

Through the passage of time the penny diminished in size and weight until it became uneconomical to strike silver and it was George III who first introduced the copper penny in 1797.  These huge penny and two penny pieces became known as cartwheels because of their size. And the raised rim around the edge.  The Penny contained one ounce of copper and were manufactured by machinery by Matthew Bolton at the Soho Mint in Birmingham.  Although the cartwheels were minted for two years they all showed the same date 1797.

Penny-of-king-stephen-of-england

Penny-of-king-stephen-of-england

The first example of a base metal penny seems to have been struck in 1601 and this showed Queen Elizabeth I with the words ‘The Pledge of’ on the obverse.  The reverse showed the value in words surrounded by a crowned Tudor Rose.  The coins proved to be very unpopular as they were so easy to forge and the profit from the one pound weight of copper was 10 shillings and sixpence (52p), 12 shillings (60p) worth of pledges being coined for one shilling and sixpence (7½p) worth of metal.  On the Queen’s death in 1603 these copper coins were withdrawn from circulation.

Queen-Victoria-1862-penny

Queen-Victoria-1862-penny

The most famous penny was of course the ‘bun’ penny so called because it portrayed the young Queen Victoria with wreathed hair coiled in a bun at the back of the head.  In 1860 the copper was superseded by bronze which became the base metal for coins and the penny struck won a smaller and lighter piece of metal weighing only one third of an ounce.

Silver-long-cross-penny-of-Edward-I

Silver-long-cross-penny-of-Edward-I

This was the last major development before the decimalisation in 1971 and the last dated old penny was 1967 and this was the last time in almost two hundred years that Britannia appeared on this denomination.  The old penny was retained during the change over period and could be used together with the three pence in units of sixpence (2½p).  As these coins had no direct equivalent in the new money it was withdrawn from circulation on September 1 1971, seven months after decimalisation.

Silver-penny-of-Cnut

Silver-penny-of-Cnut

About Wendy Hughes

Wendy turned to writing, in 1989, when ill-health and poor vision forced her into early medical retirement. Since then she has published 26 nonfiction books, and over 2000 articles. Her work has appeared in magazines as diverse as The Lady, Funeral Service Journal, On the Road, 3rd Stone, Celtic Connections, Best of British, and Guiding magazine. She has a column in an America/Welsh newspaper for ex-pats on old traditions and customs in Wales. Her books include many on her native Wales, Anglesey Past and Present, The Story of Brecknock, Brecon, a pictorial History of the Town, Carmarthen, a History and Celebration and Tales of Old Glamorgan, and a book on Walton on Thames in the Images of England series, a company history and two books on the charity Hope Romania. She has also co-authored two story/activity books for children. Her latest books are: Haunted Worthing published in October 2010, a new colour edition of The Story of Pembrokeshire published in March 2011, and Shipwrecks of Sussex in June 2011 and Not a Guide to Worthing in 2014. She is working on a book entitled A-Z of Curious Sussex which will be published in 2016 Wendy also works with clients to bring their work up to publishable standard and is currently working on an autobiography with a lady that was married to a very famous 1940’s travel writer. Wendy has spent many years campaigning and writing on behalf of people affected by Stickler Syndrome, a progressive genetic connective tissue disorder from which she herself suffers. She founded the Stickler Syndrome Support Group and raises awareness of the condition amongst the medical profession, and produces the group’s literature, and has written the only book on the condition, Stickler The Elusive Syndrome, and has also contributed to a DVD on the condition, Stickler syndrome: Learning the Facts. She has also writing three novels, Sanctimonious Sin, a three generation saga set in Wales at the turn of the century, Power That Heal set in the Neolithic period entitled Powers that Heal, and a semi biographical book entitled New Beginnings which deals with two generations coping with blindness and a genetic condition. She has also had a handful of short stories published, and in her spare time is working on several at the moment. She also gives talks on a variety of subjects including Writing and Placing Articles, Writing Local History, Writing as Therapy, Writing your first novel, etc, and runs workshops on the craft of writing – both fiction and non-fiction. She is a member of the Society of Women Writers and Journalists, and a member of the Society of Authors.