Author Topic: British Empire & C/W: a parade of pre-decimal denominations  (Read 337780 times)

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Offline <k>

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British Empire & C/W: a parade of pre-decimal denominations
« on: October 21, 2011, 09:26:27 PM »
Britain's defunct pre-decimal system of pounds, shillings and pence (£sd) was once also used by many of its overseas territories and colonies. Several of these were eventually given their own national coinage, but denominated in pounds, shillings and pence. Usually we look at these coinages in isolation, but it is also instructive to compare and contrast the denominations. Coins of the same denomination often conformed to the British standard, that is, to the specifications of the coin that circulated in the UK. This was not always the case, however, and the lower down the denominations you go, the more likely you are to see some interesting variations.

You will see that I originally conceived of the denominations as separate topics. However, I think it is more useful to keep them together, so I have merged them. They are not all in denominational order, as I started with the threepence and moved onto the silver and cupro-nickel coins, before returning to the penny and its siblings.

Let the parade commence!



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« Last Edit: November 14, 2013, 01:59:22 PM by <k> »

Offline <k>

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Re: British Empire & C/W: a parade of pre-decimal denominations
« Reply #1 on: November 20, 2011, 11:38:54 PM »
The threepence was part of the now defunct pound, shillings and pence system. The British exported this system to various parts of their empire. Often the size, shape, metal and weight of the various versions of these coins was more or less uniform across the Empire: this can be observed in the shillings, florins and halfcrowns. However, the lower the denomination, the more likely the different coins were to show variations. The threepence is a nice example, because most of them did match one another in size, shape, weight and metal, and the different designs are interesting to look at. But there were a few that deviated in various ways from the standard.

The silver and cupro-nickel threepences of the UK and the various countries of the Empire that used it were around 16mm in diameter and around 1.4 grams in weight. I'll start with this UK threepence of 1925, because the reverse design it carries had been more or less standard since 1822, but from 1927 onward a new design was adopted.
« Last Edit: June 30, 2017, 02:20:43 PM by <k> »

Offline <k>

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Re: British Empire & C/W: a parade of pre-decimal denominations
« Reply #2 on: November 20, 2011, 11:39:34 PM »
A new reverse design was adopted in the UK from 1927 to 1936, depicting three acorns. From 1937 to 1945 the reverse design honoured England and showed a Tudor rose surmounted by the flag of St George, the English national flag.
« Last Edit: June 30, 2017, 02:22:08 PM by <k> »

Offline <k>

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Re: British Empire & C/W: a parade of pre-decimal denominations
« Reply #3 on: November 20, 2011, 11:48:25 PM »
Bear in mind that the images in this topic are NOT to scale!

Of the overseas threepences, these ones from British West Africa (a currency union) and South Africa are a good point to start from, as they both have rather old-fashioned reverse designs that portray a wreath.



The South African reverse design was issued from 1923 to 1925.




The British West Africa threepence was issued from 1913 to 1957 with the same reverse design.
« Last Edit: October 29, 2019, 11:27:04 PM by <k> »

Offline <k>

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Re: British Empire & C/W: a parade of pre-decimal denominations
« Reply #4 on: November 20, 2011, 11:54:07 PM »


From 1925, the reverse of the South African threepence carried a new design of a protea, the national plant. From 1925 to 1930, the denomination was shown as "3 PENCE", but from 1931 to 1960, the last year of its issue, it was shown as "3D".
« Last Edit: October 29, 2019, 11:27:54 PM by <k> »

Offline <k>

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Re: British Empire & C/W: a parade of pre-decimal denominations
« Reply #5 on: November 21, 2011, 12:01:57 AM »
Australia introduced its own threepence in 1911. The reverse design showed the coat of arms until 1936, but from 1938 until 1964, the last year of its issue, it showed three wheat stalks.
« Last Edit: June 30, 2017, 02:24:40 PM by <k> »

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Re: British Empire & C/W: a parade of pre-decimal denominations
« Reply #6 on: November 21, 2011, 12:04:52 AM »
The New Zealand threepence was issued from 1933 to 1965. The reverse design depicted Maori war clubs.
« Last Edit: June 30, 2017, 02:25:13 PM by <k> »

Offline <k>

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Re: British Empire & C/W: a parade of pre-decimal denominations
« Reply #7 on: November 21, 2011, 12:21:00 AM »


Southern Rhodesia's threepence, whose reverse design shows African spearheads, lasted from 1932 until 1952. In 1953, Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), along with Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia) and Nyasaland (now Malawi), became part of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland, whose threepence depicted a flame lily. Zambia and Malawi eventually became independent, but in 1965 the Rhodesian Front, the white ruling party of Southern Rhodesia, illegally declared it independent under the new name of Rhodesia. This was without the agreement of the British. A Rhodesian threepence was issued in 1968 only.
« Last Edit: October 29, 2019, 11:32:46 PM by <k> »

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Re: British Empire & C/W: a parade of pre-decimal denominations
« Reply #8 on: November 21, 2011, 12:30:22 AM »
In 1930s Britain, the public found the silver threepence an inconvenient coin, as it was very small and easily lost. As a result, in 1937 a new chunky brass twelve-sided threepence was introduced. The new coin weighed 6.8 g, was 21.8mm in diameter and 2.6mm thick. It circulated alongside the smaller threepences, which continued to be issued through to 1945.

The brass threepenny bit proved to be a very popular coin. It was last minted in 1970, a year before decimalisation.
« Last Edit: June 30, 2017, 02:27:41 PM by <k> »

Offline <k>

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Re: British Empire & C/W: a parade of pre-decimal denominations
« Reply #9 on: November 21, 2011, 12:41:17 AM »
The brass threepenny bit is also famous for its beginnings. When King Edward VIII ascended the throne in early 1936, he specifically requested that the British  coinage should be modernised. Various trials and patterns were produced with his effigy on the obverse. Some of the trials were sent out to vending machine manufacturers for testing purposes, but a few were never returned. No official circulation coins of Edward VIII were ever issued, because he abdicated at the end of 1936, so the existing trials became very valuable. Edward himself tried to acquire one during his lifetime but was unsuccessful.

In the 1990s, I read the story in Coin News of one coin collector. As a 10-year-old in 1950, he received an Edward VIII threepence in his change while buying an ice cream. He sent it to the Royal Mint for authentication. The Royal Mint wrote back to him, confirming its authenticity. They added that the piece was Royal Mint property, since all trials were meant to have been handed back, therefore they were confiscating it! In the same issue of Coin News there was by chance an article reporting on a sale of one of the scarce pieces, which had just fetched 25 thousand pounds sterling at auction! I'll bet that collector felt sick, both as boy and man.

The trial threepence comes with two different reverses.
« Last Edit: June 30, 2017, 02:28:37 PM by <k> »

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Re: British Empire & C/W: a parade of pre-decimal denominations
« Reply #10 on: November 21, 2011, 01:24:03 AM »
Surprisingly, the UK brass threepence was not imitated by most other parts of the Empire, who continued to use their silver or cupro-nickel threepences. The first exception came in 1947, when Fiji issued its first threepence. It was made of nickel-brass, weighed 6.17 g, and had a diameter of 21.9mm. The last one was issued in 1967.
« Last Edit: June 30, 2017, 02:29:01 PM by <k> »

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Re: British Empire & C/W: a parade of pre-decimal denominations
« Reply #11 on: November 21, 2011, 01:25:23 AM »
When Nigeria issued its first national coinage, it included a 12-sided threepence. Its was made of nickel-brass, weighed 3.3 g, and had a diameter of 19mm and a thickness of 1.4 mm. So, though it was clearly modelled on the UK threepenny bit, it was significantly smaller and thinner.
« Last Edit: June 30, 2017, 02:29:34 PM by <k> »

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Re: British Empire & C/W: a parade of pre-decimal denominations
« Reply #12 on: November 21, 2011, 01:25:52 AM »
Jersey was the next to follow, issuing a brass threepenny bit in 1964, a one-year issue. Jersey called it one fourth of a shilling, but it had the same nominal value as a British threepence. It followed this up in 1966, with a commemorative threepence, which so far as I know is unique in the world. It commemorates 1066, when William I became King of England.
« Last Edit: June 30, 2017, 02:30:16 PM by <k> »

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Re: British Empire & C/W: a parade of pre-decimal denominations
« Reply #13 on: November 21, 2011, 01:26:19 AM »
No other 12-sided threepences were issued. Now that I have dealt with those and with the round silver and cupro-nickel threepences, I will turn to the exceptions. Jersey itself had in fact issued a round nickel-brass threepence from 1957 to 1960. It weighed 6.8g and had a diameter of 21.05mm and a thickness of 2mm, so it was quite a chunky coin.



« Last Edit: October 29, 2019, 11:42:45 PM by <k> »

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Re: British Empire & C/W: a parade of pre-decimal denominations
« Reply #14 on: November 21, 2011, 01:42:57 AM »
Going further back in time, we find another threepence that deviated from the two British standards. It was the Irish threepence of 1928, issued by the Irish Free State, which was a member of the Commonwealth until 1949. The beautiful design of a hare was the work of English engraver Percy Metcalfe. The threepence was last issued in 1968. It weighed 3.24 g, and it had a diameter of 17.7mm and a thickness of 1.81mm, so again it was quite a chunky coin. At first it was minted in nickel, but from 1942 it was made of cupro-nickel.
« Last Edit: June 30, 2017, 02:31:08 PM by <k> »