O’Brien Rare Coin Review: Why is the 1933 British Penny so valuable?


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 famous

The famous “1933” British Penny

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

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:

  1. British Museum (a ‘circulation’ penny)
  2. Royal Mint Museum at Llantrisant in South Wales (a ‘circulation’ penny)
  3. Under the foundation stone of the University of London Building in Bloomsbury, London (a ‘proof’ penny)
  4. One held in private hands (ex L A Lawrence, P G Smith and Mrs E M Norweb) (a ‘circulation’ penny)
  5. One held in private hands in the UK (ex Glendinings 1969 and in private collections ever since – a ‘circulation’ penny)
  6. 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)
  7. 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 13 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!

1933 Penny Antiques Roadshow Reverse - the last digit of the date of this coin had been altered.

1933 Penny (Antiques Roadshow reverse) – the last digit of the date of this coin had been altered, i.e. one can see the bottom half of the last “3” is a different shape to the previous “3”

The coin shown is a fake, made by a rather clumsy attempt to alter the date by engraving or transplanting digits. I think the person who showed it to us bought it for about £100 on eBay, and was hoping it was genuine!

This coin is also a fake – a rather clumsy attempt to alter the date by engraving or transplanting digits.  It was, allegedly, bought for about £100 on eBay in the vain hope that is was genuine.

This example is taken from a photo by The Royal Mint (as displayed on their website).

This example is taken from a photo by The Royal Mint (as displayed on their website).  It is possibly one of the four patterns.

1933 fake ?

On 10th August 2010, excitement was building on eBay as a 1933 British Penny reached over £1,000 + £4.95 postage – when the owner stopped responding to questions and mysteriously withdrew the coin from the auction.  Was it a fake, the 7th (stolen) coin or was it example #8 ? ? ?

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.

The 1933 facsimile British Penny is not intended to deceive but it could be mistaken as genuine by future owners that lack the numismatic knowledge to identify it as a facsimile.

The 1933 facsimile British Penny is not intended to deceive but it could be mistaken as genuine by future owners that lack the numismatic knowledge to identify it as a facsimile.

This 1933 facsimile penny is clearly not the genuine article - as can be seen by the many deliberate design flaws. It is not intended to deceive.

This 1933 facsimile penny is clearly not the genuine article – as can be seen by the many deliberate design flaws. It is not intended to deceive.


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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

Silver

  • Three Halfpence (1½d)
  • Threepence (3d)
  • Groat (4d)
  • Sixpence (6d)
  • Shilling (1/-)
  • Florin (2/-)
  • Halfcrown (2/6)
  • Double-Florin (4/-)
  • Crown (5/-)

o you collect British coins? The Old Currency Exchange holds an extensive inventory of British coins and tokens, including hammered, milled, pre-decimal, rare, investment and collectible

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12 thoughts on “O’Brien Rare Coin Review: Why is the 1933 British Penny so 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.

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  1. 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.

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  2. 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

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