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British Penny part 2

The Hanoverians (1714-1837)

The change in dynasty did not affect the form of the design of the silver penny - a 12mm diameter coin weighing 0.5 gram, with a right-facing bust of George I and the inscription GEORGIVS DEI GRA continuing onto the other side with MAG BR FR ET HIB REX date around the crowned "I". Pennies were minted in 1716, 1718, 1720, 1723, 1725, 1726, and 1727.

In 1727 George II ascended the throne, where he was to remain until 1760. While for the sixpence and larger silver coins an older bust of the king was used from 1743 onwards, the small silver coins continued to use a young portrait of him throughout his reign. The penny had a left-facing bust of George II and the inscription GEORGIVS II DEI GRATIA continuing onto the other side with MAG BRI FR ET HIB REX date around the crowned "I". Pennies were minted in 1729, 1731, 1732, 1735, 1737, 1739, 1740, 1743, 1746, 1750, 1752-1760. For seven of the eight years between 1750 and 1758 the silver penny was the only one of the small silver coins (1d, 2d, 3d, 4d) produced; this fact, coupled with the good condition of most pennies of those years which have come to our time, suggests that they were mainly used for Maundy money.

In the long reign of King George III, (1760-1820), the design of the silver penny changed subtly several times, with three obverses and five reverses. No silver pennies were minted at all between 1800 and 1817. The first obverse, showing a right-facing bust of the king, with the inscription GEORGIVS III DEI GRATIA, was used in 1763, 1766, 1770, 1772, 1776, 1779, 1780, 1781, 1784, and 1786; the second obverse, showing an older bust of the king and the same inscription, was used in 1792, 1795, and 1800, while the third, laureated bust of the king with the inscription GEORGIUS III DEI GRATIA date was used in 1817, 1818 and 1820. The first reverse, used until 1780, showed the crowned "I" in high relief, with the inscription MAG BRI FR ET HIB REX date across the crown; the second reverse, used until 1786, was similar but in lower relief, the "I" being much flatter; the third reverse, used in 1792 only, was completely redesigned with a much smaller "I" under a smaller crown with the inscription running around the crown, with the same legend as before. The fourth reverse, used in 1795 and 1800 was similar to the first but with a redesigned crown. The fifth reverse, used from 1817 onwards, showed the crowned "I" with the inscription BRITANNIARUM REX FID DEF date. From 1817 onwards, the diameter of the coin was reduced from 12 to 11 millimetres, although the weight remained the same.

As can be seen from the minting dates given above, there was a great shortage of government-issued small change in George III's reign. The situation was so bad that a great many merchants and mining companies issued their own copper tokens e.g. the Parys Mining Company on Anglesey issued huge numbers of tokens, although their acceptability was strictly limited. In 1797 Matthew Boulton was authorised by the government to strike copper pennies and twopences at his mint at Soho, in Birmingham; the time was not yet right for a token coinage, so they actually had to contain one or two pence worth of copper, i.e. they weighed one and two ounces each (penny - 28.3 grams, diameter 36 millimetres). The large size of the coins, combined with the thick rim where the inscription was incuse i.e. punched into the metal rather than standing proud of it, led to the coins being nicknamed Cartwheels. (If this sounds unwieldy, compare it to the Swedish 8 Daler plate money piece of the mid-seventeenth century, which contained 35 kilograms of copper! Unsurprisingly, Sweden became the first European country to issue paper money, in 1661). The obverse of the Cartwheel coinage is a rather fine laureated right-facing bust of George III, with the inscription GEORGIUS III D G REX, while the reverse showed the seated Britannia, facing left, holding an olive branch and trident with the inscription BRITANNIA 1797 - although it appears that coins were minted for several years, but all with the 1797 date.

In 1806 and 1807, another 150 tons of copper was coined into pennies at the Soho Mint, although this time the money was a token coinage with each penny only containing 18.9 grams of copper and being 34 millimetres in diameter. These were more conventionally-designed coins, with a right facing bust of the king and ordinary inscription GEORGIUS III D G REX date, and the obverse showing the seated Britannia facing left, with olive branch and trident and the inscription BRITANNIA. There is one unique penny coin known which is dated 1808, but this is thought to have been a proof.

By the start of the reign of George IV (1820-1830) the silver penny was exclusively being used for Maundy money, for which purpose it is still being coined today. For the further history of the silver penny from 1822 to date, please see Maundy money.

At the beginning of the Great Recoinage in 1816 only silver coins were produced. The copper penny was only minted in three years, 1825-7, although the 1827 coin is rare, and the minting of copper coins in 1825 was only authorised on 14 November of that year. The obverse of George IV's penny shows a rather fine left-facing laureated head engraved by William Wyon after the king expressed a dislike for the one engraved by Pistrucci which was used on the farthing, inscribed GEORGIUS IV DEI GRATIA date, while the reverse shows a right-facing seated Britannia with a shield and trident, inscribed BRITANNIAR REX FID DEF. The penny at this time weighed 18.8 grams and had a diameter of 34 millimetres.

The pennies of King William IV (1830-1837) are very similar to his predecessors', also being engraved by William Wyon. The kings' head faces right, inscribed GULIELMUS IIII DEI GRATIA date, while the reverse is identical to the George IV penny. Pennies were minted in 1831, 1834, and 1837 (there is a report of a single example dated 1836, but this is regarded as semi-mythical).


Previous chapter:
The Stuarts and the Commonwealth
(1603-1714)
Penny Next chapter:
Victoria
(1837-1901)

For other denominations, see British coinage.



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