Coins of England and Great Britain

('Coins of the UK')

by Tony Clayton


3 - The Halfpenny


Farthings <<-- : -->> Three Farthings

Values of Halfpence
Pictures of Halfpence


Silver HalfPence


The earliest halfpence were minted by Viking and Wessex kings before the creation of an English nation. These coins, and those of the later Saxon Kings are generally extremely rare.

After the Norman Conquest, and prior to the reign of Henry I (1100-1135) halfpence were produced by cutting the silver penny in half. However, eventually coins half the penny in weight were produced. Those of the reigns of Henry I and Henry III have only been discovered during the last few years, and it is not until the reign of Edward I (1272-1307) that the denomination came into general use. Click here for a selection of pictures of a Henry VI halfpence.

The early coins are often difficult to identify, especially as there was a rash of Edwards and Henrys in this period, along with a couple of Richards. In addition it is often difficult to read the legend correctly.

The last silver halfpence were produced during the Commonwealth after the Civil War, and had become tiny coins a mere 9-10 mm in diameter.


Copper Halfpence


The first copper halfpenny was minted in 1672 during the reign of Charles II, and the coin was also minted in 1673 and 1675.


Tin Halfpence


From 1685 to 1692 halfpence were minted in tin with a copper plug at the centre, in the same manner as the US trial silver centre cent. The coins had no date on the obverse or reverse - you have to look on the edge, and with worn examples the date can become unreadable.

In addition the coins tended to corrode readily. This is due to two main effects, the first being the presence of two dissimilar metals which has an electrochemical effect, and the other due to the fact that the metallic form of tin is in fact unstable at low temperatures, turning into a non-metallic form known as grey tin. This latter process is accelerated the lower the temperature.

The metal was used to deter counterfeiting (a problem with copper) and to encourage the tin industry.


Copper Halfpence (again)


In 1694 the decision was made to revert to copper for the halfpenny, and an attractive pattern of that date is known. The issued coins had a similar design to the earlier tin issues, but with the date on the reverse in the exergue. During the reign of William III the quality of these coins deteriorated, with some being cast rather than struck. So many of these coins were in circulation that none were struck during the reign of Queen Anne (1701-1714), although an undated pattern halfpenny is known, with the Queen portrayed as Britannia on the reverse.

George I

Inevitably a shortage followed in due course, and a new issue was made in 1717, often called the dump issue as the coins were smaller and thicker than before. In 1719 the coin reverted to the previous dimensions, and the issues of George I continued until 1724.

George II

The issues of George II from 1729 to 1754 are very common, with a more elderly portrait being used from 1740. After 1754 none were struck until 1770, and the majority of halfpence in circulation seem to have been forgeries.

George III

The first type similar to that of George II was issued from 1770 until 1775, and then there was a 24-year gap before Matthew Boulton struck a larger coin at the Soho Mint in 1799. The edge is interesting as it has an incuse pattern around the centre of the entire circumference.

There had been plans to strike halfpence and farthings in the cartwheel style, but the government were worried that this would stimulate a demand that Boulton would be unable to fulfil. Soho patterns are known.

Further Boulton coins were struck from 1806-7, although these were somewhat smaller.

The Great Recoinage took place around 1816, and priority was give to gold and silver, so no further George III halfpence were struck.

Halfpenny Trade Tokens

During the period 1787 to 1797, and again between 1811 and 1812, many private trade tokens were manufactured to fill the gap left by the absence of official small change.

A discussion of these pieces is beyond the scope of this web site, but very worn tokens are so common that they have little value.

The following references may be of help if readers wish to pursue the interest further:

George IV

Halfpence were next issued after 14th November 1825. The new coins were smaller still, the diameter of 28mm and weight of around 9.3 grams continuing until 1860. The design on the reverse continued to be a seated Britannia, although there is no indication of value until the bronze issues of 1860.

The halfpence of George IV are of a single main type issued from 1825 to 1827, although there is a scarce die variety of the 1826 coin with one raised line down the arms of the saltire rather than the usual two incuse lines.

William IV

The halfpence of William IV are of a single type with a similar reverse to that of George IV, issued only in 1831, 1834 and 1837.

Victoria

All copper halfpence of Victoria have the following design:

Obverse: Young head left, VICTORIA DEI GRATIA around, date below.
Reverse: Britannia seated facing right, BRITANNIAR: REG: FID: DEF: around, shamrock rose and thistle below.

They are similar in design to the pennies and farthings, although there are subtle differences. Photographs of halfpence can be distinguished by the relatively large lettering on the obverse.

There are two reverse types.

1851, 1852 and 1857 exist with both reverses. Overdates also exist: 1848 over 7, 1853 over 2 (rare), 1858 over 6 and 1858 over 7, and 1859 over 8.

No halfpence were issued in 1840. Farthings of that date are frequently reported as apparently rare halfpence because the coin's size is much larger than that of the later bronze issues.

The copper halfpence of 1860 were never issued for circulation and are very rare. They are worth as much as 1000 UK pounds in Fine condition. The 1845 issue is also very rare.


Bronze Halfpence


Victoria

In 1860 all the copper coins were redesigned in a smaller size and were made of bronze rather than copper, as the latter did not wear well. For the first time the denomination appeared on the reverse. The design lasted until 1894, with issues every year.

The obverse shows what is called the Bun portrait of Victoria facing left, with the inscription VICTORIA D:G: BRITT:REG:F:D:. The reverse shows Britannia seated facing right holding a trident and shield, with a lighthouse behind and ship in front, with the inscription HALF PENNY, and the date below in the exergue. The mintmark H, if present, is found centrally below the date up against the rim, as for the farthing.

The new coins had a diameter of 25 mm and weighed about 5.7g, a size which remained the same until 1970.

The design of Queen Victoria's head gradually and subtlely changes as the years pass, reflected her ageing.

The following obverse dies are known used for circulating coins, according to Peck:

The following reverse dies are known:

Known Die Pairings (excluding proofs):

The above information is given as a guide only. For more detailed information, along with illustrations, consult a copy of Peck or Freeman.

Very rare halfpence dated 1862 are known with a die letter (A, B, or C) to the left of the lighthouse.

In 1874 and 1875 some coins were struck at the Heaton Mint, Birmingham, and can be distinguished by a small H under the date. In 1876 all halfpence were minted at the Heaton Mint due to a breakdown in machinery at the Royal Mint. Further issues from the Heaton Mint were made in 1881 and 1882.

In 1895, the design was changed with the portrait showing a veiled head of Queen Victoria to bring it into line with the portrait used on the silver coinage, with the inscription VICTORIA DEI GRA: BRITT: REGINA FID: DEF: IND: IMP:. There are no obverse variations between 1895 and 1901.

The reverse is still Britannia, but without the ship and lighthouse. During 1896 the reverse design was slightly enlarged, so that the distance between the exergual line and the top of the helmet plume increases from 20.3 mm to 20.7mm. There are also two varieties of the reverse in the 1897 issue, differing in a number of respects, mainly the height of the sea above the exergual line (3.35mm instead of 3.0 mm), and a good indicator is that in the second reverse the shield is almost in contact with the border teeth instead of being well clear.

Edward VII

Issued from 1902 to 1910, all have the following basic design:

Obverse: Head right, EDWARDVS DEI GRA BRITT OMN REX FID DEF IND IMP around.
Reverse: Britannia seated facing right, HALF PENNY around, date below, as for the Victoria Old Head design.

The first issues of Edward VII in 1902 have the sea level as for the 1898-1901 Victorian halfpence (3.0 mm from exergual line to the sea, which meets Britannia's legs below where they cross), and is known as the Low Tide variety.

During the year the design was changed to show a higher sea level (4.0 mm from exergual line to the sea, which meets Britannia's legs where they cross), and this new style continued for the rest of the reign. There were no other significant die changes.

George V

Issued from 1911 to 1936, all have the following basic design:

Obverse: Head left, GEORGIVS V DEI GRA BRITT OMN REX FID DEF IND IMP around.
Reverse: Britannia seated facing right, HALF PENNY around, date below, initially as for Edward VII.

The remainder of the series show no exciting rarities or even scarce dates. The obverse was modified twice during the reign of George V, during 1925 and in 1928, when the head was made noticeably smaller, with a single change of reverse in 1925. The two changes in 1925 took place at the same time, and no mules have been recorded.

Edward VIII

On the accession of Edward VIII a new design of reverse was produced showing the Golden Hind, the ship used by Sir Francis Drake, the noted Elizabethan sailor. This was only struck as a pattern and no circulation issues were made.

George VI

The design of the Golden Hind was retained for the issues of George VI. There are minor variations in the design from one year to another which specialist collectors are interested in. However, the changes did not take place during any particular year's issue.

First Type

Issued from 1937 to 1948:

Obverse: Head left, GEORGIVS VI D: G: BR: OMN: REX F: D: IND IMP around.
Reverse: Ship (The Golden Hind) heading left, HALF PENNY above, date below.

Second Type

Issued from 1949 to 1952, with proofs from sets in 1950 and 1951:

Obverse: Head left, GEORGIVS VI D: G: BR: OMN: REX FIDEI DEF around.
Reverse: Ship (The Golden Hind) heading left, HALF PENNY above, date below.

Elizabeth II

The reverse design remained as for George VI, with the Golden Hind.

Variations continued through the reign of Elizabeth II. Three obverses and eight reverses variations are listed in Peck - later issues show further variations but will require further research:

Obverses:

Reverses:

There are thus collectable varieties for 1953 (2), 1954 (2), 1957 (2) and 1958 (3). Those for 1957 are the most distinctive.

I have no information regarding issues after 1963, although it is clear that further die changes took place.

No halfpence were issued dated 1961.

The last regular issues were dated 1967, although proofs dated 1970 was made for the 'Last Lsd' Sets. The coin was in fact demonetized on 1st August 1969, so the 1970 coin was never legal tender.


English Pronunciation of Halfpenny

This coin was not usually called a 'half penny', nor was the plural usually said as 'half pence'. The usual pronunciation was 'hayp-knee' referring to a single coin (with subtle variations depending on where in England you lived), or 'hay-punce' in the plural as in 'three halfpence'.


Acknowledgements

See my Main Coins Index page for acknowledgements


Links

Farthings <<-- : -->> Three Farthings
Main Index.
Values of Halfpennies.
Values Index.
Pictures of Halfpennies.
Pictures Index.

Help and Advice


Coins of the UK - 3 - Halfpennies
Copyright reserved by the author, Tony Clayton
v48 1st January 2013
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