The 1933 British Penny is, perhaps, one of the most famous coin rarities in the English-speaking world today – allegedly only seven coins were minted – specifically for the king to lay under the foundation stones of new buildings. So why do so many people claim to have a 1933 penny on their possession or to have seen one?
The answer is simple – I myself have seen many examples of “1933 pennies” over the past 30 years – all of these were Australian, British West Africa, Jersey, or Irish pennies, and their owners, usually victims of their own wishful thinking, forgot to mention the fact that they are not British pennies.
Getting back to the rare 1933 British penny – there was no requirement for the Royal Mint to produce any pennies in 1933 because there were already more than enough in circulation. In fact, the Royal Mint had been steadily reducing its output since 1927 (see table below).
- 1921 – 129,717,693
- 1922 – 22,205,568
- no British pennies were produced between 1923 and 1925, inclusive.
- 1926 – 4,498,519
- 1927 – 60,989,561
- 1928 – 50,178,000
- 1929 – 49,132,800
- 1930 – 29,097,600
- 1931 – 19,843,200
- 1932 – 8,277,600
That said, requests were received for sets of coins dated 1933 to be placed under the foundation stones of buildings erected in that year, and the Mint obliged by striking a small number of pennies to make up these sets.
The myth behind the reality was that people thought they could turn up in their change – a highly unlikely occurrence since these pennies were all buried beneath foundation stones. However, in 1939 World War Two broke out and most English cities were subjected to ‘the blitz’ by German bombers and many public buildings were destroyed or badly damaged – this gave some possibility that one of the coins might have been dug up and spent on food – an ‘urban myth’ that became ‘almost a fact’ during the ‘run up’ to the UK’s decimalization on 15 February 1971.
Around about that time and in the midst of a nationwide search for the missing penny, one of the original buildings – the Church of St. Cross, Middleton, Leeds, Yorkshire – which was originally half-brick and half-timber construction began to attract the attention of criminals. The timber part had been demolished in the 1920s and, when the construction of its replacement commenced in 1933, a compete set of 1933 coins were duly placed under the foundation stone.
- It is thought that the 1933 penny beneath its foundation stone was stolen in 1970
- It’s current whereabouts is currently unknown.
- So, we now know that there is at least one 1933 British penny out there
The Church of St. Cross, Middleton, Leeds, Yorkshire still stands, i.e. only the foundation stone in one corner was dug up and the damage has been repaired – see photo above.
In response to this theft, the Bishop of Ripon ordered that the (nearby) St. Mary’s Church 1933 Penny be unearthed and sold as a protective measure to prevent its theft. It was subsequently sold by Sotheby’s on 24th November 1972
The seven known examples of the 1933 British (circulating) penny are located in:
- British Museum (a ‘circulation’ penny)
- Royal Mint Museum at Llantrisant in South Wales (a ‘circulation’ penny)
- Under the foundation stone of the University of London Building in Bloomsbury, London (a ‘proof’ penny)
- One held in private hands (ex L A Lawrence, P G Smith and Mrs E M Norweb) (a ‘circulation’ penny)
- One held in private hands in the UK (ex Glendinings 1969 and in private collections ever since – a ‘circulation’ penny)
- One held in private hands (ex St. Mary’s Church, Hawksworth Wood, Kirkstall, Leeds, ex Sotheby’s 1972; in private hands ever since – a ‘proof’ penny)
- Whereabouts unknown, previously under the foundation stone of the Church of St Cross, Middleton – part of a 1933 year set which was stolen in August 1970 (a ‘proof’ penny)
- Recently (August 2016) one of these ‘circulating’ British 1933 pennies sold at auction, by Heritage Auctions, in Anaheim, California at the ANA World’s Fair of Money for US$ 179,000
- This equates to €174,411.06 or GB£151,920.22
In addition to the above 7 pennies, and of even greater rarity and value, is a 1933 pattern penny engraved for the Royal Mint by Andre Lavillier – only four of these 1933 ‘pattern’ pennies are known to exist. Generally speaking, these 1933 patterns are valued at half the price of a circulating 1933 penny.
- Recently (May 2016) one of these ‘pattern’ British 1933 pennies sold at an auction in London for a record GB£72,000
- This equates to €82,734.72 or US$93,515.49 – which is roughly half of the above
A ‘pattern’ or ‘trial’ is a coin which has not been approved for release, usually produced for the purpose of evaluating a proposed new or modified coin design.
In the instance of King George V’s coins, there were problems with the obverse side of the coins – the large head was causing an uneven displacement of metal on the reverse side – resulting in ghosting of the bust, i.e. a faint image of the king’s head was appearing on the opposite side after striking of the dies.
- The consequent and on-going experimentation with the design resulted in no less than three variations of the left-facing king’s head.
- After a three-year gap in production the alloy composition was changed in 1925 to 95.5% copper, 3% tin, and 1.5% zinc, although the weight remained at 1⁄3 ounce (9.4 g) and the diameter 31 millimetres.
- A good example of a ‘pattern’ around this time is the penny of King Edward VIII (1936). Only one exists: it is dated 1937 and was produced for official approval just before he abdicated in favour of his younger brother, the future King George VI.
Beware of fakes – there is a lot of them out there!
In addition to the fakes that are occasionally fraudulently offered for sale, there are number of private mints offering facsimile copies. These are sold as facsimiles and are not intended to deceive. They are very obviously not the genuine article, as can seen from the illustration below. A potential problem arises, however, after they change hands a few times and the then current owner doesn’t realise they were bought as facsimiles and thinks they might be real.
As previously mentioned, the 1933 British penny is famous because people have spent half a century talking about where the ‘missing’ ones might be. What most don’t realise, is that there is an even rarer British penny, i.e. the elusive 1954 British penny.
- Only 1 has ever been found !
- O’Brien Rare Coin Review: Why is the 1954 British Penny so valuable?
Now if you GENUINELY liked this post then it would be a HUGE help if you left a rating, or a review. It might seem insignificant, but it helps more than you might think.
The following is a simplified list of the British & Irish copper, bronze and silver coins of the monetary union (or modern) period. Blue text = links to other posts
Copper & Bronze
- Fractional Farthings
Copper Farthings (¼d)
- O’Brien Coin Guide: GB & Ireland Copper Farthings of George IV
- O’Brien Coin Guide: GB & Ireland Copper Farthings of William IV
- O’Brien Coin Guide: GB & Ireland Copper Farthings of Victoria
Bronze Farthings (¼d)
- O’Brien Coin Guide: GB & Ireland Bronze Farthings of Victoria
- O’Brien Coin Guide: GB & Ireland Bronze Farthings of Edward VII
- O’Brien Coin Guide: GB & Ireland Bronze Farthings of George V
- O’Brien Coin Guide: GB & Northern Ireland Bronze Farthings of George VI
- O’Brien Coin Guide: GB & Northern Ireland Bronze Farthings of Elizabeth II
Copper Halfpennies (½d)
- O’Brien Coin Guide: GB & Ireland Copper Halfpennies of George IV
- O’Brien Coin Guide: GB & Ireland Copper Halfpennies of William IV
- O’Brien Coin Guide: GB & Ireland Copper Halfpennies of Victoria
Bronze Halfpennies (½d)
- O’Brien Coin Guide: GB & Ireland Bronze Halfpennies of Victoria
- O’Brien Coin Guide: GB & Ireland Bronze Halfpennies of Edward VII
- O’Brien Coin Guide: GB & Ireland Bronze Halfpennies of George V
- O’Brien Coin Guide: GB & Northern Ireland Bronze Halfpennies of George VI
- O’Brien Coin Guide: GB & Northern Ireland Bronze Halfpennies of Elizabeth II
Copper Penny (1d)
- O’Brien Coin Guide: GB & Ireland Copper Pennies of George IV
- O’Brien Coin Guide: GB & Ireland Copper Pennies of William IV
- O’Brien Coin Guide: GB & Ireland Copper Pennies of Victoria
Bronze Penny (1d)
- O’Brien Coin Guide: GB & Ireland Bronze Pennies of Victoria
- O’Brien Coin Guide: GB & Ireland Bronze Pennies of Edward VII
- O’Brien Coin Guide: GB & Ireland Bronze Pennies of George V
- O’Brien Coin Guide: GB & Ireland Pennies Struck by the Heaton Mint
- O’Brien Coin Guide: GB & Ireland Pennies Struck by the King’s Norton Mint
- O’Brien Rare Coin Review: Why is the 1933 British Penny so valuable?
- O’Brien Coin Guide: GB & Northern Ireland Bronze Pennies of George VI
- O’Brien Coin Guide: GB & Northern Ireland Bronze Pennies of Elizabeth II
- O’Brien Rare Coin Review: Why is the 1954 British Penny so valuable?
- GB & Ireland Silver Three-Halfpence
- Threepence (3d)
- Groat (4d)
- Sixpence (6d)
- Shilling (1/-)
- Florin (2/-)
- Halfcrown (2/6)
- Double-Florin (4/-)
- Crown (5/-)
- Do you collect British coins?
- If you would like to receive monthly pricelists for British coins …
- email us on email@example.com
- let us know that you want to receive our “British Coins List”
26 thoughts on “O’Brien Rare Coin Review: Why is the 1933 British Penny so valuable?”
I have a 1933 Jersey penny. Is it valuable?
There were 204,000 of them minted, so the 1933 Jersey penny is not quite in the same league as its British counterpart.
They are available for about £5 each on eBay but I am pretty sure your local coin dealer could sell it cheaper.
Just a thankyou for the site, very informative. As technologically challenged could not see how else to review/rate
I have a Half penny 1933 how do I get it authenticated if its fake or not ?
A 1933 British halfpenny is very common and almost worthless – why would you want to have it authenticated?
On a recent holiday to Cornwall my family and I where looking for shells on a beach and I came across a lump of “rock” with a coin protruding from it. At first I left it but then my inquisitive nature got the better of me and I managed to retrieve the coin from it. It was not a rock. I could not identify the material in which it was embedded however there where also some bolts encased in it. After some research my sister identified the coin as a George the 5th penny unfortunately, the coin is in poor condition and the date it practically unreadable. Is there anything that could identify the the coin. I can almost make out a 1 9 and a 3. It may just be me being stupidly hopefull that it is a 1933 penny and the lump I removed it from was actually part of the foundations in which it was laid. If there is anything I can do to identify the coin I would much appreciate the advice.
Contact the Portable Antiquities Scheme at
They will let you know where the nearest Finds Officer is located + their contact email.
Its unlikely that your penny is a 1933 … but you never know !!!
The church of st cross middleton west Yorkshire hasn’t been demolished
it was originally half brick and half timber the timber part was demolished in the 1920s and a new section was built in 1933 that was we’re the 1933 penny was placed under the foundation stone and yes it was stolen in 1970 or was it
But the church still stands and hasnt been demolished I can see the church from my house
Many thanks for that correction.
I have updated the article accordingly.
I have a Henry viii harp R-I coin in good condition, is it worth any money
Define Good in numismatic terms
e.g. Poor – Good – Fine – Very Fine – Extremely Fine – Uncirculated
If you are not sure, scan / photograph your coin on each side
Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
I will then be in a better position to answer your question.
and compare your coin to their coins.
Then check out their grade.
Really interesting article, great info .
I have seen a 1933 penny in the archeology museum in Valletta Malta. Could not tell of its original. Information from site excellent.
Hi I have a 1927 English penny Is it worth anything
Check its market value here
Scroll down to … O’Brien Coin Guide: GB & Ireland Bronze Pennies of George V
Please,, mail me British west 1933 coin at p.o box 341006 Jamaica NEW York,11434 thank you.
How many do you want?
What is your preferred method of payment?
fascinating article and a pleasure to read
I hope this article encourages you to collect coins … and, perhaps, keep an eye out for that ‘missing’ 1933 penny !
What a fabulous and informative site. Reassuring the internet would be pointless without sites like this. Thank you, and keep sharing your knowledge.
Hi , Im am curious with this coz I have 1 of this 1933 penny coin . Can you if this is genuine or just a fake . Thanks .
Read the article + look carefully at the images.
– It should be obvious if its a 1933 British penny, or not.
– If yes, check the images of the date (most people have a facsimile sold by a museum)
The most informative site I have come across on coins. I collect British coins and am trying to fill date runs from farthing to half crowns but if I live to be a hundred years old i won’t be near the full accumulations. I will tell you one thing though, the enjoyment I get collecting them is unbelievable. Thank you once for your mountain of information.
Thank you Gerry.
I will, hopefully, complete the catalogue for British & Irish coins by the end of the year.
Thanks for your patience.