It has been a fact of Numismatics for many years that one of the most famous coins is the 1933 Penny. The primary factor for this fame is, of course, its rarity within such a common denomination and the reasons for that rarity.
In 1933 the Royal Mint decided to temporarily cease the production of pennies. This was due to the millions of Victorian and Edwardian pennies already in circulation. Despite the lack of necessity, it was still decided to strike a small number of pennies from that year, the main reason for this is that it was customary to place complete sets of dated coins beneath the foundations of buildings constructed in that year.
Justifications for this particular tradition vary but superstition seems to be the most common explanation. The mint released 1933 pennies especially for this purpose, and packaged them in sets with other coins, to be buried beneath three buildings. One of these buildings, the Church of St Cross in Middleton, had its set of coins stolen from beneath the foundation stone. As a result of this crime a second set, which had been buried within the foundations of St Mary’s Church in Leeds, was removed on the instructions of the Bishop of Ripon and sold. As far as we know the third set is still in place beneath the Bloomsbury buildings of the University of London.
As well as these three sets a handful of additional coins were kept by the Royal Mint. It is not known exactly how many were minted, but it is believed to be no more than seven, three of which reside, as popular exhibits, within the British Museum, Mint Museum and the University of London. These coins rarely come up for sale but when they do, it tends to cause quite a stir.
In addition to the seven known 1933 British penny examples, and of even greater rarity and value, is a 1933 pattern penny, engraved for the Royal Mint by French artist Andre Lavillier who was bought in to solve the issue of ghosting caused by the portrait of George V. Only four of the 1933 pattern pennies are known to exist. The pattern differs from the “regular” 1933 penny in a few details, including a different set of designer’s initials.
In 2016 a 1933 pattern penny was sold at auction for £86,400 (including buyer’s premium) by AH Baldwin & Sons. This was a monumental shift in value as our team explained at the time – “No other bronze coin has ever come close, I think the last was in the region of £15,000”. The final hammer price was double that of the auction guide price and set a new world record for a penny.
This coin is still of great interest to the general public today, as illustrated by the recent video created by popular YouTuber Tom Scott featuring our very own MD, Neil Paisley…
With no precise record of the number minted, and with the coin having been struck to ordinary circulation standard, it is entirely possible that one might turn up in everyday use. And to this day coin enthusiasts will eagerly search through change jars and boxes of old pennies searching for the elusive penny of 1933.