Coins of England and Great Britain

('Coins of the UK')

by Tony Clayton

8 - Three Pence

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Values of Three Pence Coins
Pictures of Three Pence Coins

Silver Threepence

First introduced during the reign of Edward VI in 1551, and then re-introduced during the reign of Elizabeth I, when many odd denominations were minted. Indeed, this denomination is characterised by its intermittent nature during the 16th and 17th centuries.

During the reign of Charles I the value was indicated by a III behind the King's head.

On the restoration of Charles II an undated threepence was issued, but in 1670 a regular series of dated coins commenced, with a number of gaps until 1800. Prior to 1800 these coins were generally 1.5g and 17mm diameter. An example of a William & Mary 3d shows the general style used until 1927.

After the Great Recoinage of 1817 the threepence was primarily produced for the Maundy Ceremony, although issues for Colonial use were made. It was not until 1845 that the threepence was struck for general circulation in the UK. From 1817 until 1945 the silver threepence weighed 1.4g and had a diameter of 16mm.

The 1822 issue of George IV used the twopence punch for the effigy, and consequently the King's portrait is smaller than that for later issues. According to a footnote in H.A.Seaby's "English Silver Coinage from 1649" (1957), the first punch broke, and as there was not time to make another, that for the twopence was used.

Three interesting errors of legend occur during the Victorian era. The coin is small and the legend very fine, so it is understandable if the wrong punch was used for the similar letters B and R. The two errors are 1858 BRITANNIAB instead of BRITANNIAR, and 1868 RRITANNIAR instead of BRITANNIAR. These two coins are well worth looking out for as they command a substantial premium.

In addition, one die used in 1851 had a 5 punched instead of an 8, making it read 1551. An unusual way to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the first 3d!

During 1887 both the obverse and reverse were changed. The head of the Queen changed from the Young Head to the so-called Jubilee Head, and the crown above the figure three was modified. The Young Head version is illustrated. No mules of the two types are known.

In 1893 the obverse was changed to the Veiled Head type, and both the old and new versions exist for that date. The 1893 Jubilee Head 3d is a scarce coin.

Until 1927 the Maundy and currency versions of the coin are more or less identical - the depth of striking being the best clue - but in that year the currency coin was redesigned from the crowned 3 to a new design with three oak sprigs and acorns, while the design of the Maundy version remained unchanged.

Two changes took place in 1937. The design of the silver threepence was changed to show a shield bearing the Cross of St.George centered on a Tudor Rose, although the Maundy version remained as a crowned three.

In addition, a new and larger nickel-brass threepenny coin was introduced. This has a design showing a thrift plant, a clever pun on words at a time when saving was being encouraged. Trial pieces had a slightly different design and the portrait of Edward VIII, and some of these found their way into circulation unofficially.

Although the silver threepence continued to circulate for some years (I recall receiving one in change in about 1959), and particularly in Scotland and the West Indies, it was last produced for circulation in the UK in 1941. Issues were made for the next three years for use in the West Indies, and are all relatively scarce, particularly the 1944 coin. Nearly 400,000 were minted in 1945, but the great majority were melted down - a very few, one or possibly two, have survived.

Nickel-Brass Threepence

Edward VIII

In England, and in London in particular, the small size of the silver threepence was unpopular. Three pennies were heavy and cumbersome, so it was decided to introduce a larger nickel-brass version of the three pence coin.

Trial pieces of various thicknesses were minted with a portrait of Edward VIII and a reverse design of a thrift plant by Frances Madge Kitchener. Some of these were not returned and found their way into circulation. One recently put up for auction by Dix Noonan Webb is illustrated. These trial pieces come in three thicknesses: 1.75mm; 2.0mm; 2.5mm.

As some of the thinner patterns could activate existing relatively primitive slot machines instead of a sixpence or shilling, the thickest dimension was eventually decided upon.

The threepence coins from the official sets of Edward VIII coinage that were prepared (but not issued), and a few of which survive, have a modified reverse with the same design as that used by George VI.

George VI

In 1937 a new brass threepence was introduced using an alloy of 79% copper, 20% zinc and 1% nickel. It was 12 sided to make it more distinguishable to the touch, and weighed 6.8g. It measures 21mm across between the flat edges, almost exactly the same as later used for the Canadian 5c. A 1943 specimen is illustrated.

The 12-sided design and thickness made the coin easy to identify, and it became very popular - the silver threepence being considered too small, a lesson not learnt when it came to introducing the present small fivepence piece.

At first the coins had sharp corners, but during 1941 a more rounded collar was used, as failure of the collars was occuring too frequently. In 1948, and from 1950, sharp edged collars were used again. Both types are known for 1949.

No threepence coins were minted in 1947, and the mintages of 1946 and 1949 are particularly low; back in the 1960's I never found either in circulation. I am particularly grateful to Martin Platt for the image of an uncirculated 1949 threepence. Sadly my own specimen is only Fine!

From 1949 the obverse legend was modified to remove the IND IMP.

Elizabeth II

They were struck each year in the present reign until 1967 (and ones struck later had the latter date). The design shows a portcullis, a badge of Government. A final proof version dated 1970 was issued as part of the last Lsd set.

The coins of 1953 issued in the 'plastic sets' differ slightly from those issued later in the year for general circulation, and from the proof set coin. The following year, 1954, the obverse legend was changed and the portrait strengthened.

The 1958 and 1966 coins are known struck in cupronickel. That dated 1961 is known struck on Hong Kong 10c blanks in error. A proof 1958 3d made for presentation to a VIP and in a recent Spink sale is illustrated.

Nickel-brass three pence coins were demonetised on 31st August 1971.


See my Main Coins Index page for acknowledgements


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Coins of the UK - 8 - Three Pence
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v36 19th January 2013
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