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English/British coin Penny

This article refers to the penny coin which existed from its introduction in England in the reign of Offa of Mercia in the eighth century until decimalisation of the currency in 1971. This article discusses the silver coins produced until 1820 (for later silver pennies, to the present day, please see the article on Maundy money), and the copper or bronze coins produced from 1797 to 1970.
The silver penny was introduced to England around the year 785 by King Offa of Mercia, in the English midlands. The origin of the name penny is uncertain, but it is possible that it comes from the German word pfennig which was a German denomination. The coins were similar in size and weight to the continental deniers of the period. The abbreviation d. comes from the Roman denomination denarius and was used until the 1970s.

Anglo-Saxon silver pennies were the currency used to pay the Danegeld, essentially protection money paid to the Vikings so that they would go away and not ravage the land: as an illustration of how heavy a burden the Danegeld was, more Anglo-Saxon pennies of the decades around the first Millennium have been found in Denmark than in England. In the reign of Ethelred the Unready (978-1016), some 40 million pennies were paid to the Danes, while King Canute (Knut) (1016-1035) paid off his invasion army with another 20 million pennies. It is estimated that the total amount of silver paid in Danegeld between 990 and 1015 was about 93 tons of silver, worth about 250,000 at the time, and equivalent to about 1.2 billion in today's money.

The penny initially contained 1/240th of a Troy pound (approx. 373 grams) of silver, i.e. about 1.55 grams. As the purity and weight of the coin was critical, the name of the moneyer who manufactured the coin, and at which mint, often appeared on the reverse side of the coin.

From the time of King Offa, the penny was the only denomination of coin minted in England for some five hundred years, until the attempted gold coinage issue of King Henry II, and the later issues of King Edward III.


Pennies by Period
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Penny Next chapter:
The Early Normans and the Anarchy
(1066-1154)

For other denominations, see British coinage.



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