Penny (British pre-decimal coin)

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One old penny
United Kingdom
Value  1240 pound sterling
Mass 9.4 g
Diameter 31 mm
Edge Plain
Composition Bronze
Years of minting 1860 - 1970
British pre-decimal penny coin obverse 1911.png
Design Various (George V design shown)
Designer Bertram Mackennal
Design date 1911
British pre-decimal penny coin reverse 1911.png
Design Britannia
Designer Leonard Charles Wyon
Design date 1860

The British pre-decimal one penny (1d) coin, usually simply known as a penny, was a unit of currency equaling one two-hundred-and-fortieth of a pound sterling. Its symbol was d, from the Roman denarius. It was minted in bronze, and replaced the earlier copper and silver pennies. It was used during the reign of six monarchs: Victoria, Edward VII, George V, Edward VIII, George VI and Elizabeth II, finally being replaced in 1971. For the entirety of its one hundred and ten years in circulation it bore the image of Britannia on its reverse, and, like all British coinage, the portrait of the monarch on the obverse.

The correct plural form for multiple 1d coins is pennies, and the correct term for monetary sums less than £1 is pence, e.g. eight pence. Before Decimal Day in 1971 there were two hundred and forty pence in one pound sterling. Twelve pence made a shilling, and twenty shillings made a pound. Values less than a pound were usually written in terms of shillings and pence, e.g. forty-two pence would be three shillings and six pence (3/6), pronounced "three and six". Values of less than a shilling were simply written in terms of pence, e.g. eight pence would be 8d.

This version of the penny was made obsolete in 1971 due to decimalisation, and was replaced by the decimal penny which had a value 2.4 times as great.


The reverse 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, seven 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 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". 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.

A penny of King Edward VIII (1936) does exist, dated 1937, but technically it is a pattern coin i.e. one produced for official approval which it would probably have been due to receive about the time that the King abdicated. The obverse shows a left-facing portrait of the king (who considered this to be his best 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.


The coin's predecessor, the English silver penny, weighed 24 grains of sterling silver in 1279. Over the centuries that weight had declined to 12 grains and lower.

British silver pennies were minted until about 1750, then occasionally until about 1820; thereafter, they were only minted for Maundy money.

From 1797, pennies for general circulation were minted in copper and were extremely heavy. Copper pennies were replaced by the bronze ones described here in 1860.


Pre-decimal penny coins continue to be used to adjust the timing of the pendulum of the clock in the Clock Tower of the Palace of Westminster, commonly known as "Big Ben".

In the United States, other than the known uses in numismatics, British pennies are also used in coin magic, because they are at contrast with the just slightly smaller US half dollar (the half dollar is 30.61 mm in diameter compared to the 31 mm in British Pennies), with their copper sheen compared to the silver in half dollars. Indeed, many routines involve a copper-silver transposition, in which a British penny and a half dollar change places.

Pennies by period[edit]




  • Coincraft's Standard Catalogue English & UK Coins 1066 to Date, Richard Lobel, Coincraft. ISBN 0-9526228-8-2

External links[edit]