In for a Penny, In for a Pound

Moneylender and wife detailyJoanna here, talking about … well … money.

‘Take care of the pence and the pounds will take care of themselves.’ 
Before 1724


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.

Gaming purse late C17 french met museum

French 'gaming purse' attrib Metropolitan Museum

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.

A latte at Starbucks, you will have noticed, costs a bit more than a penny, and a London coffee shop threw in the newspapers free. Gerrit van Honthorst Old woman examining a coin1620



‘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.’

Here’s a close up view of one Penny 1806of those pennies. A George III 1806 penny. I am just going to say that if I looked like George III I would not put my profile on a coin. The reverse shows Britania.

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.


Cartwheel penny 1797Our Regency purse might contain an earlier minting of the copper penny that had an incised design and a particularly thick rim. These were nicknamed ‘cartwheels’.

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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