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How much are old pennies worth?

Pennies have been part of British history since Anglo-Saxon times. They come in many metals, shapes and sizes, culminating in the current copper-plated penny worth one-hundredth of a pound. Despite being such a commonly used coin, there are plenty of unique, old pennies that are worth significantly more money than originally intended. Working out how much old pennies are worth can be difficult, but the following page will help inform you as to whether your old penny is valuable.

Arguably the most valuable one penny coin is the 1933 George V penny, which is worth an estimated value of £72,000. Although this was originally created as a pattern coin – which means it is not intended for release into circulation – it is believed seven were issued, making them extraordinarily rare.

Another extremely valuable penny coin is a gold 20 pence coin, minted in 1257. Struck by William of Gloucester, for Henry III, it is the first English gold coin. It was mistakenly made with a gold content that exceeded twenty pence of gold at that time. This meant its scrap value was greater than its currency worth. Consequently, all the coins were recalled, but a few survived. It is estimated that one could now be worth £500,000.

Old silver pennies

The first English pennies were introduced around 785 AD by the Anglo-Saxon King, Offa of Mercia. The name penny was derived from the German ‘pfennig’ and old English ‘pennige’. They were pure silver, and had a value of 1/240th of an English pound.

An old silver penny coin, from the reign of King Harthacnut

1035-1042 Harthacnut Hammered Silver Penny.

The old pre-decimal, penny, was two-hundred-and-fortieth of a pound, and is symbolised with a letter 'd'. This is derived from the Roman denarius coin. The post 1971, decimal penny, one-hundredth of a pound, is symbolised with 'p'.

Silver pennies continued to be minted until 1660, when they ceased to be issued for general circulation. Some silver pennies were issued however from 1707-1797 as Maundy Money.

Copper pennies

In the later years of the 18th century a great shortage of small value coins, such as silver pennies, began to restrict trade. This shortage led some merchants and mining companies to produce their own copper penny and half-pence token coins. Earlier copper halfpennies also exist such as the example below from 1694.

An old copper penny from the reign of William and Mary.

To combat this in 1797, Birmingham industrialist, Matthew Bolton was authorised by The Bank of England to strike the first legal tender copper pennies, and two-pence coins.

Bolton's pennies were minted at his in his Soho Works, located in Birmingham, using revolutionary steam-powered minting technology. They contained copper to the value of one penny at the time, and were therefore very large.

The penny had a 36mm diameter, and the two penny 42mm, making them the largest UK coins ever circulated. Because of this they were known as 'cartwheels'. The design featured the monarch's head on the obverse and Britannia on the reverse or tails. This design with subtle variations remained standard for all subsequent pennies until decimalisation in 1971.

An old cartwheel penny in scale with traditional penny and decimal penny.

A Cartwheel penny in scale with a 1947 and current penny. Today, extremely fine examples of Bolton's pennies could be worth in excess of £300.

1,250 tonnes of ‘cartwheels’ were struck at the Soho Works between 1797 and 1799, but all were dated 1797 regardless of issue year. The price of copper soon rose to exceed that of the metal in the cartwheel pennies. As a result, many were hoarded or melted down for their metal value and the coin soon went out of circulation.

Further authorisation was granted to Bolton in 1799, resulting in the minting of pennies in 1806 and 1807. These weighed just under 19g, 10g lighter than the cartwheels, but were only 2mm smaller.

In 1811 Bolton supplied The Royal Mint with machinery for a new mint at Tower Hill. Under the Great Recoinage of 1816 this began striking gold and silver coins. It was not until 1825, in the reign of George IV, that it began to mint copper halfpennies and pennies.

Bronze pennies

In the early 1860s there was a variety of weights and sizes of the penny in circulation, including the 1797 cartwheel. This was both confusing and difficult when weighing quantities. Consequently, The Royal Mint began to withdraw copper pennies in 1861 and these were replaced by smaller and lighter bronze coins in 1863. These were minted by James Watt & Co plus The Heaton Mint, both of Birmingham.

Weighing just under 10g and measuring slightly less than 31mm, bronze pennies continued to be minted for general circulation until 1967. Final proof sets were minted in 1970, before decimalisation in 1971 marked the end of the old penny.

Measuring 20.3mm and weighing 3.56g, decimal pennies were first minted from bronze. With rising copper prices, in 1992, it was changed to copper-plate.

How much are old pennies worth now?

We're often asked how much old pennies are worth now, and in particular pre-decimal pennies from the 20th century. As bullion dealers we are unfortunately unable to purchase these old pennies ourselves, and they were produced in their millions. Particularly good examples may still be worth something to a collector, and it can be worth checking on resale platforms to see if your old penny is worth more than you expect.

In addition to legal tender, circulating pennies, The Royal Mint has also struck special limited editions in precious metal for investors and collectors or numismatics. These valuable coins are available in many denominations such as one, two, ten, twenty and fifty pence pieces. Many of these come boxed with certificates of authentication.

At BullionByPost we stock a huge range of valuable old pennies starting from around £60 at the time of writing. Our most valuable old penny is currently a silver penny from the reign of Harthacnut. At nearly one thousand years old, this single penny is worth over £700 at the time of writing! Showing just how much old pennies can be worth.

Gold Pennies

The Royal Mint also produce gold proof versions of the one pence coins. These coins are struck to a high quality finish, in limited mintages, intended for collectors who want something a bit special. The gold pennies weigh 6.98 grams and are struck to 22 carat purity. We do not see them often, but they make a wonderful alternative to add to a collection.