What Is a Pence Coin?

Penny and Pence

Five Pence Coins

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The foundation for the British currency system is the pound sterling. It uses the symbol £ and the ISO abbreviation of GBP (Great British Pound). On February 15, 1971, Great Britain adopted a decimal system of coinage that divides one pound sterling into 100 pence, or 100p.

Previous to the decimal conversion, Great Britain had a currency system that used penny and pence (abbreviated d), shillings (s), and pounds (£). Pence is the plural of penny when referring to a coin of that denomination.

Before decimalization, 12 pence made a shilling, and 20 shillings made a pound. This complicated currency system operated on fractions and had a separate nomenclature for incremental units, as illustrated below.

Coin Amount
1/4 d Farthing
1/2 d Halfpenny, pronounced "haypny." The word often appears in print as "ha'penny"
4/4 d Three farthings
1d Penny
2d Two pennies, two pence, or tuppence
3d Three pennies or three pence. The coin was sometimes referred to as a threepenny bit. The word was often pronounced "thrupny" or "thruppence"
4d Groat. This coin was in circulation until 1662, and was revived briefly in the mid-nineteenth century
6d Sixpence, or tanner
1s Shilling, or bob
2s Two shillings, or florin
2s 6d Half a crown
5s Crown
10s Ten shillings, or half sovereign
£1 One pound, or sovereign, commonly called a quid
£1 1s One pound and one shilling (21 shillings), or guinea

As one can see, this monetary system became very complex when executing commercial transactions. One would have to convert crowns to shillings or shillings to pennies before they could make change for a transaction. This led to the decimalization of Great Britain's currency system, beginning in 1968 and concluding in 1971. This new system is much easier to understand and complete financial transactions with.

Old currency  Equivalent in decimal currency 
6d 2 1/2 p
1s 5p
2s 10p
10s 50p
£1 £1

Penny and Pence

The Royal Mint first began minting coins in 886 A.D. For centuries, British coins were minted in London, first at the Tower of London and then at the nearby Tower Hill. Finally, a new mint facility was constructed in Llantrisant in South Wales in the 1970s.

The English word penny is derived from the Old English word penig, which itself comes from the proto-Germanic word panninga. The plural form for multiple penny coins is pennies. For example, if you had 25 coins of the penny denomination, you would say, "I have 25 pennies." The correct term for monetary amounts of pennies greater than one penny is pence (e.g., one pound and twenty pence). Unlike the United States, usage of the plural term is always pennies.

The English penny was first minted in the Anglo-Saxon times and was made out of silver and weighed about 1 1/2 g. Currently, the New Penny is made out of bronze, is 20.32 mm in diameter, and weighs 3.56 g. The two pence coins is equal to two pennies or 1/50 of a pound. It is also made out of bronze, is 25.91 mm in diameter and weighs 7.12 g.

Current Great Britain Coins

Since the decimalization of Great Britain's coinage system, it also led to fewer denominations of coins being produced. Coupled with the elimination of the paper one pound note at the end of 1984, the following coins are currently produced by The Royal Mint: 1 penny, 2 pence, 5 pence, 10 pence, 20 pence, 50 pence, 1 pound, and 2 pounds.

Each coin features a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II on its obverse. A variety of reverse designs have been produced over the years, including some circulating commemoratives issues. In March 2018, new designs were released for the 10-pence coin. One design for each of the 26 letters of the alphabet symbolized something uniquely English. Anne Jessopp, chief executive of the Royal Mint, described the designs as "iconic themes that are quintessentially British."