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Halfpenny (British pre-decimal coin)

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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
DesignProfile of the monarch (Elizabeth II design shown)
DesignerMary Gillick
Design date1953
DesignGolden Hind (Britannia on earlier mintages)
DesignerThomas Humphrey Paget
Design date1937

The British pre-decimal halfpenny, (pronounced /ˈhpəni/), once abbreviated ob. (from the Latin 'obulus'),[1] was a denomination of sterling coinage worth 1/480 of one pound, 1/24 of one shilling, or 1/2 of one penny. 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 (although halfpennies dated 1970 were minted as part of a final pre-decimal commemorative set).[2] 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.[3] Like all British coinage, it bore the portrait of the monarch on the obverse.[4]

"Halfpenny" was colloquially written ha'penny, and "1+1/2d" was spoken as "a penny ha’penny" /ə ˈpɛni ˈhpni/ or three ha'pence /θr ˈhpəns/.[5] "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

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

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.

A 1937 halfpenny (reverse), depicting 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 /ˈhpəθ/.[6][7]

In literal use usually written out in full[8][9][10] although still never pronounced phonetically:[11][12][13] e.g. "A halfpennyworth of chips."[14] 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."[15] "…and saying it doesn't make a halfpennyworth of difference!"[16][17] (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."[8][9][10][18]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "University of Nottingham Manuscripts and Special Collections 'Research Guidance' Weights and Measures § Money". Retrieved 12 March 2014.
  2. ^ "Halfpenny (Pre-decimal), Coin Type from United Kingdom". Retrieved 21 April 2017.
  3. ^ "Halfpenny and Farthing". Royal Mint Museum. Archived from the original on 6 November 2018. Retrieved 10 May 2014.
  4. ^ Michael, Thomas and Cuhaj, George S. Collecting World Coins: Circulating Issues 1901 – Present. Krause Publications, 2001.
  5. ^ "Halfpenny". Oxford English Dictionary (Online ed.). Oxford University Press. (Subscription or participating institution membership required.)
  6. ^ "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)
  7. ^ Fowler's Dictionary of Modern English Usage: Page 363, No. 6 . Oxford University Press. 26 March 2015. ISBN 9780191064944. Retrieved 26 March 2015.
  8. ^ a b "Prof. John Wells's Phonetic Blog".'Did I hear you "aright"?'
  9. ^ a b "Professor John Wells, University College London".PhD General Linguistics, UCL Psychology & Language Sciences
  10. ^ a b "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)
  11. ^ "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.
  12. ^ "University of Pennsylvania, Department of Linguistics: Assistant Professor Gareth Roberts". Retrieved 11 June 2019.
  13. ^ "Dr Gareth Roberts, PhD Linguistics, The University of Edinburgh, 2010". Retrieved 17 July 2014.
  14. ^ "Blackadder Goes Forth "Corporal Punishment" (Series 4 No. 2)" – via YouTube.[dead link]
  15. ^ Archived at Ghostarchive and the Wayback Machine: "Bless Me Father "Baptism of Fire" (Series 1 Episode 1)" – via YouTube.
  16. ^ Archived at Ghostarchive and the Wayback Machine: "Talking Heads "A lady of Letters" With Patricia Routledge (Part 3)" – via YouTube..
  17. ^ "Talking Heads by Alan Bennett No. 3 "A lady of Letters" (Runtime 33.24)". 8 November 2019. circa 22 min. & 33. sec. in.
  18. ^ Archived at Ghostarchive and the Wayback Machine: "BBC Breakfast featurette on "Ethel and Ernest" (Originally aired 2016)" – via YouTube.

External links[edit]