The penny, an iconic figure in British currency, has undergone an astounding journey from the Anglo-Saxon silver pennies to the modern penny we are familiar with today. This article aims to explore this journey, unveiling the fascinating history of the penny, a coin that has stood the test of time.
The Birth of the Penny: Anglo-Saxon Silver Pennies
The origin of the penny dates back to the late 8th century, during the Anglo-Saxon period, when it was first introduced as a silver coin. The Anglo-Saxon penny, also known as a ‘ sceat,’ was influenced by the Roman ‘denarius’ and served as the standard unit of currency for several centuries.
The Portrayal of Kings and Symbols
The sceat commonly featured the king’s bust on the obverse and a variety of designs, including crosses and animals, on the reverse. This coin became a canvas for artistic expression, with designs evolving over time to reflect changes in monarchy and societal norms.
The Penny Under the Normans
The Norman Conquest in 1066 brought with it a range of reforms, including changes to the monetary system. Although the penny continued to be the dominant coin, its design underwent significant modifications.
Introduction of the Cross
One notable change was the introduction of a prominent cross on the reverse of the penny, which facilitated the cutting of the coin into halves or quarters for smaller transactions. This practical feature demonstrated an evolution in understanding economic transactions among the population.
Transformation in the Middle Ages
The Middle Ages saw further changes to the penny. Amidst the economic and societal changes, new denominations were introduced, but the penny retained its central role in British coinage.
The Long Cross Penny
In the late 13th century, the ‘long cross penny’ was introduced under King Edward I. The cross was extended to the edge of the coin to prevent the clipping of silver, a widespread problem that led to the debasement of coinage.
The Shift to Copper and Bronze: The Industrial Revolution
The Industrial Revolution brought about a significant shift in British coinage, with the penny transitioning from silver to copper and later bronze. This shift was primarily due to the increasing scarcity of silver and the need for more affordable coinage to cater to the expanding economy.
The Cartwheel Penny
In 1797, the first copper penny, known as the ‘Cartwheel Penny,’ was minted. It was significantly larger and heavier than the silver pennies and featured a raised rim with the image of Britannia on the reverse.
The Decimalisation of the Penny
The most significant transformation of the penny came in 1971 when the UK adopted the decimal system. The old penny, valued at 1/240th of a pound, was replaced by the new penny, worth 1/100th of a pound. The size and composition of the penny changed over time, with the modern penny being made of copper-plated steel.
The penny’s journey from the Anglo-Saxon silver pennies to the modern penny encapsulates a rich and dynamic history. It showcases the evolution of British coinage, reflecting societal, economic, and political changes over the centuries.
Significant Designs on the Penny
The design of the penny has varied greatly throughout its history, with each period reflecting the zeitgeist of its time. Notable designs include the profile of Queen Victoria, the symbol of Britannia, and the current design featuring Queen Elizabeth II. Each design embodies the nation’s identity, bearing witness to its past and present.
The Penny in the 21st Century
Even in the 21st century, the penny continues to hold its place in British coinage. Although the growing trend of digital transactions has raised questions about the future of physical currency, the penny retains a certain nostalgic charm.
The Controversy Surrounding the Penny
In recent years, there has been a debate about whether or not to abolish the penny due to its low purchasing power and the cost of production. However, many argue that the penny plays a vital role in pricing strategies and charitable donations, demonstrating the complex relationship between societal habits and currency use.
Collecting Pennies: A Numismatic Hobby
For coin collectors, or numismatists, the penny offers a rich field of interest. From the scarce silver pennies of the Anglo-Saxon period to the widely circulated modern pennies, each coin carries a piece of history. Collecting pennies can provide an engaging hobby, an educational pursuit, and sometimes even a worthwhile investment.
Rare Pennies and their Value
Some rare pennies, such as the 1933 Penny, can be worth a fortune due to their rarity and historical significance. The value of a penny can be determined by a combination of factors including the coin’s condition, rarity, and demand among collectors.
The remarkable journey of the penny provides a fascinating lens to view the economic, cultural, and political history of Britain. Despite numerous changes over the centuries, the penny endures, bearing testimony to its undeniable legacy. As we hold a penny, we don’t just hold a piece of currency, but a piece of history that has weathered the storms of time.