In for a penny
Volume 42, Number 1, January 2005
There has been much talk on the media recently about one of our oldest coins – the penny; although sadly that talk has not necessarily all been of the positive kind! It all started with a small piece in the Daily Express which saw the columnist suggest that the humble penny (and probably the two pence piece too) were relics from another age, had no business in today’s pockets and purses and should be abolished! This led to a debate on the Jeremy Vine Lunchtime show on Radio 2 where our Marketing Manager Philip Mussell ably defended the small coins and since then it has somewhat snowballed. The Prudential commissioned a survey that apparently, indicated that on average nearly quarter of us would be happy to see the back of our smallest denominations - 30% of those living in London (and 19% of those living in Scotland or Yorkshire) would cheerfully do away with our copper coinage and indeed some 5.3 million of us actually throw away these coins rather than have them cluttering up our lives! It is undoubtedly true that many of us do find our coins, particularly the smaller denominations, mildly irritating – they weigh down our pockets or bags, ruin the line of our trousers and, lets face it what can you buy with copper coins these days? Most of us are more inclined to break a note than fish around trying to find the right change and millions, apparently, don’t bother spending coins at all but rather simply accumulate them in jars, bottles etc ready to be counted up and exchanged in the bank for “real” money, you know the folding stuff! It is estimated that 15 million people in the UK have “change” collections worth more than £50 and 6.4 million who have collections of £100 or more – and all because they don’t want to carry the coins around with them. Although these statistics may seem meaningless they hide a very real concern – after all a number of the Eurozone countries are planning to halt production of the smallest one and two cent coins and Australia and New Zealand got rid of there copper coinage back in 1990. Is this the way forward for Britain too? It seems inconceivable that the standard unit of currency in this country (it isn’t the pound – that was introduced as a coin in the reign of Henry VII, the penny had been introduced in or around 780 by Offa as an alternative silver coin to the Denier of France that had been introduced by Pepin the Short and was being used in this side of the channel. Even today a pound is measured as one hundred pennies, a penny is not measured as one hundreth of a pound!) could be done away with but despite the Royal Mint’s insistence that that is still a market for these coins (there are 10.13 billion 1p coins and 6.4 billion 2p coins currently in circulation) it does seem possible, if not likely that one day we could well be saying goodbye to the coin that has, in some form or another been part of our lives for well over 1000 years. Numismatically of course this would, I fear, be a slippery slope, after all it want be long before the same arguments applied to the copper coinage are applied to the 5p and then the 10p – after that who knows? It isn’t inconceivable that in the fullness of time all coins will be abolished, after all when your average chocolate bar costs £5 as one day I’m sure it will, why bother carrying coins at all? Maybe I’m being overly pessimistic and maybe there are those of you out there who would welcome the abolition of our smallest coins but from a numismatic point of view I fear such a move would be a great shame and from a personal point of view I fear it would be a disaster – after all those of you happy to abolish the penny and two pence just think for a minute about the next budget – it won’t be a penny on income tax or a penny on fuel/beer/wine/cigarettes etc for pennies won’t exist, every price rise will be in multiples of 5p – and that can’t be a good thing!
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