‘Take care of the pence and the pounds will take care of themselves.’
In the change purse of your average Regency housekeeper or light-hearted debutant or even your evil-eyed villain you might find farthings and halfpence, pennies, two pence — all of those in copper. Then the silver coins, which would be four pence, six pence, shilling, eighteen pence, and half crown.
You can see what they look like — that loose copper change and the gold coins that you, as a Regency person, probably wouldn’t have been carrying around in your pocket every day — here.
There is a whole possibility of coins in that purse. When you reached in and pulled one out, maybe the most likely of all would be the humble and fascinating penny.
‘A penny for your thoughts’
Dates to 1546.
The 1800 English penny was a substantial coin, more valuable than our current British penny.
How valuable? Talking the long general period around 1800, a pint of beer or a cup of coffee cost a penny. A one-pound loaf of bread cost penny happence.
‘In for a penny, in for a pound.’
The penny was bigger and heavier than either a US or UK penny today. Current currency (I loved writing that) is ‘token money’. We don’t expect a dime or a quarter to hold ten cents or twenty-five cents worth of silver. Currency in 1800 contained its value in metal. A penny held a penny’s worth of copper. About an ounce.
That means a big, heavy coin. If you decided, in your Eighteenth Century way, to grab a coffee coming home from work, pick up a loaf of bread, some fish, a few veggies and a nice French wine . . . you might find yourself walking around with a half pound of coins in your pouch.
‘Penny wise and pound foolish.’
If you click on the picture and have very good eyes you might see that down below Britania’s shield is the word SOHO — where it was minted.
These 'cartwheels' were minted over several years but were all stamped 1797, and this is exactly the the sort of thing that makes us cynical about the whole monetary system.
Since there’s so many very thrifty proverbs about pennies . . . What’s your favorite way to be frugal with your pennies?
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