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The British decimal one penny (1p) coin, usually simply known as a penny, is a unit of currency equalling one one-hundredth of a pound sterling. The penny's symbol is p. Its obverse has featured the profile of Queen Elizabeth II since the coin's introduction on 15 February 1971, the day British currency was decimalised. Four different portraits of the Queen have been used on the obverse, with the latest design by Jody Clark being introduced in 2015. The second and current reverse, designed by Matthew Dent, features a segment of the Royal Shield and was introduced in 2008. The penny is the lowest value coin (in real terms) to ever circulate in the United Kingdom.

One penny
United Kingdom
Value0.01 pound sterling
Mass3.56 g
Diameter20.3 mm
Thickness(Bronze) 1.52 mm
(Steel) 1.65 mm
CompositionBronze (1971–1991)
Copper-plated steel (1992–)
Years of minting1971–present
British one penny coin 2016 obverse.png
DesignQueen Elizabeth II
DesignerJody Clark
Design date2015
British one penny coin 2015 reverse.png
DesignSegment of the Royal Shield
DesignerMatthew Dent
Design date2008

The penny was originally minted from bronze, but since 1992 it has been minted in copper-plated steel due to the increasing price of copper. One pence coins are legal tender only up to the sum of 20p; this means that it is permissible to refuse payment of sums greater than 20p in 1p coins, in order to settle a debt. However, since the strict legal definitions of terms like "legal tender" do not apply to most everyday transactions (such as paying for goods in shops) these rules seldom apply in everyday life.

As of 31 March 2016 there were an estimated 11.43 billion 1p coins in circulation, with a total face value of around £114,299,000.



The word penny is derived from the Old English word penig, which itself comes from the proto-Germanic panninga.[1] The correct plural form for multiple 1p coins is pennies (e.g. fifty pennies). The correct term for monetary amounts of pennies greater than 1p is pence (e.g. one pound and twenty pence).[2]


Prior to 1971, the United Kingdom had been using the pounds, shilling and pence as a currency system. Many other Commonwealth countries had already made the change, or announced their intention to change, to a decimal currency system, including New Zealand, India and Pakistan. Prompted by these changes, the government created the Committee of the Inquiry on Decimal Currency (Halsbury Committee) in 1961, which reported in 1963. This committee was tasked with determining how best to decimalise the pound.[3] It was subsequently announced by Chancellor James Callaghan on 1 March 1966 that the recommendations of the report would be implemented, and that Britain was to decimalise its currency. One pound would be subdivided into 100 pence, instead of the 240 pence that was previously the case.[4]

This required new coins to be minted, to replace the pre-decimal ones.[5][6] The original specification for the 1p coin was set out in the Decimal Currency Act 1969, which was replaced by the Currency Act 1971. This mandated the weight of the coin to be 3.56400 grammes, and 2.0320 cm in diameter.[7] Subsequently, the Currency Act 1983 allows for the standards of the 1p coin to be changed by Royal Proclamation.[8]

The new 1p coins began production in December 1968 in the newly built Royal Mint facility in Llantrisant, South Wales. 2000 million decimal 1p and 2p coins were stuck here in preparation for the decimal day.[9] On 15 February 1971, the United Kingdom officially switched to a decimal currency and the new 1p coins entered circulation.[10]

Metallic compositionEdit

The coin was originally minted in bronze (composed of 97% copper, 2.5% zinc, 0.5% tin) between 1971 and September 1992. However, increasing world metal prices necessitated a change of composition. Since 1992, the coin is minted in steel and electroplated in copper. Thus, they are magnetic.[11] Soaring world prices for copper had caused the value of the pre 1992 copper 1p coin to exceed 1 pence. For example, in May 2006, the intrinsic metal value of a pre-1992 1p coin was about 1.5 pence.[12] However, melting coins is illegal in the UK, and is punishable by a fine, or up to 2 years imprisonment.[13][14]

Obverse DesignsEdit

To date, four different obverses have been used, all of which feature a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II. The outer inscription on the coin is ELIZABETH II D.G.REG.F.D. 2013,[15] where 2013 is replaced by the year of minting. In the original design both sides of the coin are encircled by dots, a common feature on coins, known as beading.

Anticipation of a switch to a decimalised currency led to the commissioning of a new Royal Portrait by artist Arnold Machin, which was approved by the Queen in 1964.[16] This featured the Queen wearing the 'Girls of Great Britain and Ireland' Tiara and was used until 1984.[11] A modified form of this portrait has appeared on British Postage stamps since 1967.[17]

Between 1985 and 1997 a portrait by Raphael Maklouf was used.[11] The portrait is couped and depicts the Queen wears the George IV State Diadem. Unlike previous portraits, the Queen is wearing jewellery, earrings and a necklace. The initials of Maklouf RDM are shown below the neck of the Queen. His middle name, David, is included so that the mark is not confused for the initials of the Royal Mint.[17]

In 1997, a competition to design the obverse of the 1997 Golden Wedding crown - a coin issued to celebrate the Queen and Prince Philip's 50th wedding anniversary - was held. The standard of entry was so high that following this competition, the Royal Mint held another to design the new portrait.[18] Ian Rank-Broadley won this competition, and his design was used between 1998 and 2015.[11] His design featured again featured the tiara, with a signature-mark IRB below the portrait.[19] The depiction of the queen was seen as more realistic, with Rank Broadley himself saying "There is no need to flatter her. She is a 70-year-old woman with poise and bearing".[17]

Portcullis reverse: 1982–2008

In 2014, the Royal Mint again held a competition to design a new portrait.[20] Designer Jody Clark won this competition, with a portrait of the Queen wearing the George IV State Diadem and the initials JC feature under the neck of the Queen.[11][17] The portrait was sketched without an official sitting, only using reference material for inspiration.[20]

Reverse DesignsEdit

Despite no official government confirmation of a switch to decimalised currency, the Royal Mint began the design process for decimal coins in 1962. They invited the Royal Academy, the Royal Institute of British Architects, the Faculty of the Royal Designers for Industry and the Royal College of Art to nominate artists to design the hypothetical new coins. British sculptor Christopher Ironside won this competition, and his design was chosen to feature on the potential decimalised currency. His design for the 1p coin featured a Scottish theme, with a coin depicting a thistle atop a Scottish flag inside a shield and a Scottish lion inside a shield.[21] However, Chancellor James Callaghan's announcement that that the UK would decimalise its currency included an open competition would be held to find the new designs. Over 80 artists 900 different designs were submitted.[16] Ironside entered this competition with a further, different style of designs and won.[21][22]

The reverse of the coin, which was minted from 1971 to 2008, featured a crowned portcullis with chains (an adaptation of the Badge of Henry VII which is now the Badge of the Palace of Westminster), with the numeral "1" written below the portcullis, and either NEW PENNY (1971–1981) or ONE PENNY (1982–2008) above the portcullis.[11]

In August 2005 the Royal Mint launched a competition to find new reverse designs for all circulating coins apart from the £2 coin.[23] The winner, announced in April 2008, was Matthew Dent, whose designs were gradually introduced into circulating British coinage from mid-2008.[24] The designs for the 1p, 2p, 5p, 10p, 20p and 50p coins depict sections of the Royal Shield that form the whole shield when placed together. The entire shield was featured on the now-obsolete round £1 coin.[25] The 1p coin depicts the left section between the first and third quarter of the shield, representing England and Northern Ireland. The coin's obverse remains largely unchanged, but the beading (the ring of dots around the coin's circumference), which no longer features on the coin's reverse, has also been removed from the obverse.[26]


The coins are produced by the Royal Mint, at their facility in Llantrisant, South Wales.[27] The process involves using a die, to strike a blank, which imprints the design of the coin onto the a blank, (a blank disc made to the diameter of the coin).[28]

The dies are cut through a computer aided engraving process, and the blank discs are formed from sheet metal punched by a machine known as a blanking press. The blank discs are then struck in a coining press at pressure of around 60 tonnes by the dies, which imprints the coins design. The Royal Mint can produce around 850 coins per machine, per minute.[29][30]


Legal tenderEdit

The 1p (and 2p) coins are legal tender for amounts up to and including 20 pence.[31] However, "legal tender" has a very narrow meaning in the UK, which is unlikely to affect everyday transactions. Legal tender means that a debtor can not be successfully be sued for non-payment of a debt if he has offered unconditionally to pay in legal tender.[32] The defendant in such a case would be able to raise a defence of tender before claim.[33]

A shopkeeper, for example, is not under any obligation to accept 1p coins for payment; conversely they have the discretion to accept payment in just 1p coins if they so wish.[34]

Speculation on withdrawalEdit

The proposed withdrawal of the 1p coins has been subject of media speculation for some time. It has been reported that in 2015, the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, proposed the withdrawal of the 1p coin. This was allegedly vetoed by Prime Minister David Cameron, because of the political risk of such a move.[35]

In March 2018, the Government launched a consultation on the future of payments in the British economy. One question focused on the denominational mix of coins, including 'dormant' denominations.[36] This prompted speculation that the 1p and 2p coins could be withdrawn from circulation.[37][38] A Bank of England report concluded that fears about the withdrawal were 'unfounded' and that there would be no significant impact on prices if copper coins were scrapped, noting the sharp decline in usage of copper coins. It is estimated that 60% of copper coins are only spent once, before being removed from circulation and the Royal Mint has to mint £500m of copper coins each year to replace coins fallen out of circulation.[39]

However, in May 2019 Chancellor Phillip Hammond announced that there were no plans to scrap copper coins, and that they would be used for 'years to come'.[40][41]


The penny has the lowest value in real terms of any coin in the history of the United Kingdom, since at least 1707. All previous low-value coins were withdrawn before their purchasing power fell below that of the penny.[42] The purchasing power of previous lowest-value coins is:

Coin Face value Withdrawn 2018-equivalent purchasing power at withdrawal[43]
half-farthing 11920 of a pound 1869/1870 4.9p
farthing 1960 of a pound 1960 2.4p
pre-decimal halfpenny 1480 of a pound 1969 3.4p
pre-decimal penny 1240 of a pound 1971 5.8p
decimal halfpenny 1200 of a pound 1984 1.6p


Machin portraitEdit

  • 1971 ~ 1,521,666,250
  • 1972 ~ In proof sets only
  • 1973 ~ 280,196,000
  • 1974 ~ 330,892,000
  • 1975 ~ 221,604,000
  • 1976 ~ 300,160,000
  • 1977 ~ 285,430,000
  • 1978 ~ 292,770,000
  • 1979 ~ 459,000,000
  • 1980 ~ 416,304,000
  • 1981 ~ 301,800,000
  • 1982 ~ 100,292,000
  • 1983 ~ 243,002,000
  • 1984 ~ 154,759,625

Maklouf portraitEdit

  • 1985 ~ 200,605,245
  • 1986 ~ 369,989,130
  • 1987 ~ 499,946,000
  • 1988 ~ 793,492,000
  • 1989 ~ 658,142,000
  • 1990 ~ 529,047,500
  • 1991 ~ 206,457,600

composition changed to copper-plated steel

  • 1992 ~ 253,867,000
  • 1993 ~ 602,590,000
  • 1994 ~ 843,834,000
  • 1995 ~ 303,314,000
  • 1996 ~ 723,840,060
  • 1997 ~ 396,874,000

Rank-Broadley portraitEdit

  • 1998 ~ 739,770,000
  • 1999 ~ 891,392,000
  • 2000 ~ 1,060,364,000
  • 2001 ~ 928,802,000
  • 2002 ~ 601,446,000
  • 2003 ~ 539,436,000
  • 2004 ~ 739,764,000
  • 2005 ~ 378,752,000
  • 2006 ~ 524,605,000
  • 2007 ~ 548,002,000
  • 2008 ~ 180,600,000 (Ironside reverse)
  • 2008 ~ 507,952,000 (Dent reverse hereafter)
  • 2009 ~ 556,412,800
  • 2010 ~ 609,603,000
  • 2011 ~ 210,404,000
  • 2012 ~ 227,201,000
  • 2013 ~ 260,800,000
  • 2014 ~ 464,801,520
  • 2015 ~ 154,600,000

Clark portraitEdit

  • 2015 ~ 418,201,016
  • 2016 ~ 371,002,000
  • 2017 ~ 240,999,600
  • 2018 ~ In proof sets only

Data taken from the Royal Mint mintage statistics. The latest estimate from the Royal Mint of the total number of 1p coins in circulation was in March 2016 and there were an estimated 11.43 billion 1p coins in circulation, with a total face value of around £114,299,000.[44]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "penny | Origin and meaning of penny by Online Etymology Dictionary". Retrieved 2019-05-06.
  2. ^ "pence | Definition of pence in English by Oxford Dictionaries". Oxford Dictionaries | English. Retrieved 2019-05-06.
  3. ^ Rolfe, Sidney, E. (June 1964). "Report of the Committee on Inquiry on Decimal Currency". The American Economic Review. 54 No. 4, Part 1 (4): 481–485. JSTOR 1810753.
  4. ^ James Callaghan, Chancellor of the Exchequer (1 March 1966). "Economic Situation". Parliamentary Debates (Hansard). United Kingdom: House of Commons. col. 1120.
  5. ^ Freeman, Len (2011-02-05). "What's that in old money?". Retrieved 2019-05-12.
  6. ^ "The Royal Mint and decimalisation | The Royal Mint". Retrieved 2019-05-12.
  7. ^ UK Parliament. Coinage Act as amended (see also enacted form), from
  8. ^ UK Parliament. Currency Act as amended (see also enacted form), from
  9. ^ "A new Royal Mint for 'D-Day' | The Royal Mint". Retrieved 2019-05-12.
  10. ^ "All Change: Decimalisation". Royal Mint Mueseum. Retrieved 2019-05-12.
  11. ^ a b c d e f "One Penny Coin | The Royal Mint". Retrieved 2019-05-05.
  12. ^ Your small fortune: 2p coins that could be worth 3p each, Telegraph, 12 May 2006
  13. ^ "Destroying Coinage | The Royal Mint". Retrieved 2019-05-09.
  14. ^ UK Parliament. Coinage Act as amended (see also enacted form), from
  15. ^ Clayton, Tony. "Decimal Coins of the UK – Bronze". Retrieved 2006-05-24.
  16. ^ a b "All Change Decimalisation". Royal Mint Mueseum. Retrieved 2019-05-12.
  17. ^ a b c d "The five portraits of Her Majesty The Queen". Retrieved 2019-05-11.
  18. ^ "Coins to get new Queen's head". BBC News. 2014-11-06. Retrieved 2019-05-11.
  19. ^ "Royal Effigy". Ian Rank-Broadley. Retrieved 2019-05-11.
  20. ^ a b Ballinger, Lucy (2017-08-12). "Artist whose initials are in your pocket". Retrieved 2019-05-11.
  21. ^ a b "The UK coins that were never made | The Royal Mint". Retrieved 2019-05-12.
  22. ^ "Christopher Ironside's designs | The Royal Mint". Retrieved 2019-05-12.
  23. ^ "Royal Mint seeks new coin designs", BBC News, 17 August 2005
  24. ^ "Royal Mint unveils new UK coins" Archived 2009-03-07 at the Wayback Machine, 2 April 2008
  25. ^ "Royal Mint unveils coin designs". BBC News. 2008-04-02. Retrieved 2019-05-05.
  26. ^ "In Pictures: UK coins unveiled". BBC News. 2008-04-02. Retrieved 2019-05-05.
  27. ^ "About Us | The Royal Mint". Retrieved 2019-05-06.
  28. ^ "How are British coins made? We visit Royal Mint to find out". This is Money. 2017-01-31. Retrieved 2019-05-06.
  29. ^ "Making the coins in your pocket | The Royal Mint". Retrieved 2019-05-06.
  30. ^ "How the UK's coins are made - and what they are made of". 2011-07-23. ISSN 0307-1235. Retrieved 2019-05-06.
  31. ^ UK Parliament. Coinage Act as amended (see also enacted form), from
  32. ^ "What are the legal tender amounts acceptable for UK coins? | The Royal Mint". Retrieved 2019-05-05.
  33. ^ November 2015, Masood Ahmed30. "Defence of tender before claim". Law Society Gazette. Retrieved 2019-05-05.
  34. ^ "What is legal tender?". Retrieved 2019-05-05.
  35. ^ Asthana, Anushka (2017-06-30). "George Osborne came within weeks of scrapping the penny". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2019-05-05.
  36. ^ HM Treasury (March 2018). "Cash and digital payments in the new economy: call for evidence" (PDF). Retrieved 5 May 2019.
  37. ^ Peachey, Kevin (2018-03-13). "Is this the end for 1p and 2p coins?". Retrieved 2019-05-05.
  38. ^ Monaghan, Angela (2018-03-13). "All change? Future of 1p and 2p coins in doubt as demand falls". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2019-05-05.
  39. ^ Monaghan, Angela (2018-08-22). "Risk of scrapping 1p and 2p coins 'unfounded'". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2019-05-05.
  40. ^ Peachey, Kevin (2019-05-03). "Future of 1p and 2p coins secured". Retrieved 2019-05-05.
  41. ^ "The Parliamentary Review". 3 May 2019. Retrieved 2019-05-05.
  42. ^ Reuben, Anthony (2019-06-01). "What is the least valuable British coin ever?". Retrieved 2019-06-01.
  43. ^ UK Retail Price Index inflation figures are based on data from Clark, Gregory (2017). "The Annual RPI and Average Earnings for Britain, 1209 to Present (New Series)". MeasuringWorth. Retrieved January 27, 2019.
  44. ^ "Mintage Figures". Royal Mint. Archived from the original on 28 August 2018. Retrieved 28 December 2015.

External linksEdit