History of the Halfpenny Coin
Half penny coins, often called “halfpennies” or “half pence,” have a rich history and were once a common denomination of currency in the United Kingdom. Although halfpennies are no longer in circulation, they hold a certain charm for collectors and numismatists. Here’s a guide to halfpenny coins, covering their history, design and value.
The origins of the halfpence
The halfpenny can trace its roots back to ancient civilisations. It’s a coin that holds a unique place in history, as it represents the concept of division and fractional currency. One of the earliest known examples of fractional currency comes from ancient Greece in the 5th century BCE. The Greeks created small copper coins called “hemiobols,” which were worth half an obol, a more common unit of currency.
The Roman Empire also contributed to the development of fractional currency. During the Roman Republic, small bronze coins called “As” were divided into halves and quarters, creating a system of fractional denominations similar to the halfpence.
The concept of the halfpenny gained traction in medieval Europe, where various regions issued their own halfpence. These coins were typically made of copper or bronze and featured intricate designs reflecting the time and place of when they were made. In England, the halfpenny was first introduced in the early 13th century during the reign of Henry III. These early halfpennies were thick and often unskilfully struck.
Over the centuries, the design and production of halfpennies improved. During the Tudor and Stuart periods in England, these coins featured the likenesses of monarchs and other iconic symbols of the era. Halfpence coins also became more standardised in size and weight, making them easier to use in daily transactions.
The 19th and 20th centuries witnessed significant changes in currency systems, with many countries shifting towards decimalisation and abandoning fractional currency like the halfpenny. Just like the farthing coin, the halfpence soon went out of circulation and it was phased out in 1984, marking the end of an era that had lasted for centuries.
Halfpenny features and designs
In the UK, the halfpenny coin featured the image of the reigning monarch on the obverse and various designs on the reverse over the years. The size, composition, and design of the coin changed several times throughout its history. The last halfpenny coin in the UK was issued in 1967 and featured a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II on the obverse.
The coin was first minted in bronze and was the smallest decimal coin in both size and value, weighing 1.78g with a value of £0.005.
Keepsake gifts and halfpenny coins
Halfpenny coins are popular amongst numismatists and coin-lovers alike, not only for the role they played in the British coinage system but for their unique and fascinating history. Today, halfpennies are often sought for their nostalgic connection to the past and make for wonderful keepsakes.
Halfpenny coin gifts can often serve as meaningful tokens that can be cherished for a lifetime, especially when commemorating a significant life event, like a milestone birthday or special anniversary. Not just for family and friends, our collection of halfpenny jewellery and accessories are also perfect if you’re looking to treat yourself to a special coin that can remind you of a special date in time. Our collection of halfpennies contains unique jewellery items that are made from 1970-1980 versions of the halfpenny, depicting Elizabeth II on the obverse and the British crown on the reverse.
Halfpennies for collectors
For collectors and those looking for rare or unique coins, specific designs or variations of the halfpenny coin are often most appealing. Here are several that are highly coveted:
- The Bun Head – A halfpenny coin design issued during Victoria’s reign, featuring Queen Victoria’s profile facing left, with her hair tied up in a bun.
- The Veiled Head – This halfpenny coin featured another Queen Victoria portrait, also facing left yet adorned in jewellery.
- The Golden Hind – Imagery on this halfpenny series depcits an image of the Golden Hind, the ship that carried Francis Drake and his crew on their adventures around the world.
Highly graded and rare halfpennies often sell for around £100, however historical coins have sold for over £300 in the past. Old halfpenny coins that feature minting errors or are a limited number are often worth more than common coins. Our coin grading guide will help you learn what to look out for in your coin collection in case you’re in possession of a unique and valuable halfpenny.
Facts about the halfpenny
So, now you know where the halfpenny came from and how it has become part of Britain’s rich coinage history, we’ve put together some more interesting facts about this special coin.
- No halfpence coins were issued in 1840 and the copper halfpence of 1860 were never issued for circulation.
- During 1874 and 1875, some halfpennies were struck at the Heaton Mint in Birmingham due to a breakdown in machinery at the Royal Mint.
- The coin was not commonly called a halfpenny or halfpence. Historically, the coin was pronounced “hayp-knee” for a single coin and a “hay-punce” in the plural.
The history of the halfpence is a fascinating journey through time, reflecting the evolution of currency from its ancient origins to the modern era. This humble halfpenny coin, born from the need for fractional currency, played a vital role in trade and daily life for centuries. Its designs and denominations were shaped by the cultures and societies that used it, leaving behind a rich historical legacy.
While the halfpenny may no longer circulate as legal tender in many parts of the world or the UK, it remains a highly coveted coin by many. Whether you’re interested in halfpennies for their historical significance or investment potential, there’s a unique coin for everyone to enjoy within our collection of halfpenny coin jewellery.