O’Brien Coin Guide: Irish Pre-Decimal Penny

The penny (1d) (Irish: pingin) coin was the third smallest denomination of the pre-decimal Irish pound.  There were 12 to a shilling, 24 to a florin and 240 to a pound.  To express an amount, penny was abbreviated to “d”, e.g. shortened from dwt, or pennyweight.

The penny is one of the longest circulating coin denominations in Europe – being in continuous use from Anglo-Saxon times to the present day in the UK, only recently obsolete (2002) here in Ireland when we converted to the Euro.

Anglo-Saxon Danelaw (c 898-915), Viking coinage of York, Cnut, penny

Anglo-Saxon Danelaw (c 898-915), Viking coinage of York, Cnut, penny, patriarchal cross, rev EB IΛR ICE I

The Irish Vikings copied the Anglo-Saxon pennies when they produced Hiberno-Norse and Hiberno-Manx coins of their own for local and international trading purposes.

Hiberno-Norse coinages, Sihtric Anlafsson, phase II

Hiberno-Norse coinages, Sihtric Anlafsson, phase II

The modern Irish penny was introduced in 1928 to replace its British counterpart, although the two co-existed for circulation purposes in Ireland up until the break with Sterling in 1979.  Although these coins were produced by the Royal Mint in London, were the exact same dimensions as the British penny and our currency guaranteed by the Bank of England, Irish coins were not accepted as legal tender in the UK.  British tourists and returning Irish expats often threw their loose change out of the train windows at Dun Laoghaire as they were about to embark on to the Mail Boat (ferry) to Holyhead – a great source of regular income for the local schoolboys that were brave enough to walk on to the tracks at the time.

1928-68 Irish Penny (reverse design)

1928-68 Irish Penny (reverse design)

The last year of minting was 1968 and it ceased to be legal tender on 31 December 1971.

The coin measured 1.215 inches (30.9 mm) in diameter and weighed 9.45 grams. This bronze coin comprised 95.5% copper, 3% tin and 1.5% zinc.

The reverse of the penny was designed by the English artist Percy Metcalfe.  It featured a hen and five chicks and the coin’s Irish name (pingin).  The obverse featured the Irish harp.

1928-68 Irish Penny (reverse design)

1928-68 Irish Penny (reverse design)

From 1928 to 1937 the date was split either side of the harp with the name Saorstát Éireann circling around.  Pennies were minted in only 5 out of the possible ten years during the Saorstát years.

Irish Free State
1928 9,000,000
1931 2,400,000
1933 1,680,000
1935 5,472,000
1937 5,400,000

From 1939 through to 1968 the inscription changed to Éire on the left of the harp and the date on the right.

1949 farthing

1938-68 Irish Penny (obverse design)

Republic of Ireland
1938                 2 ?
1940      312,000
1941   4,680,000
1942 17,520,000
1942 chickless var.
1943   3,360,000
1946   4,800,000
1948   4,800,000
1949   4,080,000
1950   2,400,000
1952   2,400,000
1962   1,200,000
1963   9,600,000
1964   6,000,000
1965 11,160,000
1966   6,000,000
1967   2,400,000
1968 30,000,000
1968 chickless var.

The 1938 Irish Penny

The 1938 Irish penny is a great rarity and only 2 examples are known to date, i.e. one is owned by the National Museum of Ireland and other is private hands.  It is thought that they are trial pieces produced by the Royal Mint in London to test the resulting metal flow and other technical differences brought about by the new obverse design.  This 1938 Irish penny has been ‘faked’ and offered for sale on eBay – see my other blog article for more information on the 1938 Irish Penny.

The “chickless” varieties

The ‘chickless’ variety is probably a die flaw caused by normal ‘wear and tear’ on the dies during the minting process.  This variety has become very popular with collectors over the past decade and some claim to have evidence of “progressive wear across several examples of 1968 pennies” leading to a chickless coin.

Ireland Irish chickless penny variety

Irish Penny: the one on the left is a ‘normal’ penny, whereas the example on the right is the ‘chickless’ variety.

  • The most obvious difference is that the ‘chickless’ penny has the body of the second chick missing in the area behind the hen’s leg. The head of the chick is quite clear to the left of the hen’s leg, but the curve of the chick’s belly and the top of its leg are completely missing from the areas to the right of the hen’s leg.
  • There is also a tiny remnant of the chick’s leg visible just above the exergue line.
  • One might also note that the chicken’s far wing – visible behind the raised foot –  is smaller on the ‘chickless’ variety.

This variety occurs on the 1942 and 1968 Irish pennies.  Other years (1948 and 1966) have been reported but not yet substantiated.  Contrary to some opinions, there is definitely a premium on these coins.

The great vending machine scam of 1990

When the Irish currency was decimalised in 1971, in parallel with the British currency, the new Irish coins mirrored the dimensions of their UK counterparts.  This was done because :-

  • The Irish currency was linked to the British Pound until 1979
  • All Irish coins were produced by the Royal Mint up until 1978, and the dies for the new Irish decimal currency were also produced there, although the actual coin production now switched to the Central Bank of Ireland Mint at Sandyford, Co Dublin.
  • Only after 1979 did Irish decimal coins vary from their British counterparts, i.e. small 5p and 10p, and the new 20p and £1 (punt) coins.

On June 20th, 1990 a new Irish “punt” coin was introduced and, although less than 20 years had elapsed since the old Irish penny (pre-decimal) was withdrawn, the Dublin hucksters had not forgotten about it, i.e. it had very similar dimensions to the old Irish penny.

  • 30.9 mm in diameter and weighing   9.45 grams
  • 31.1 mm in diameter and weighing 10.00 grams

I remember this ‘scam’ because I attended a coin fair in Dublin’s Mansion House the following weekend and lots of Dublin teenagers were buying my old pennies @ 6 for £1, going out to vending machines in local pubs, fraudulently obtaining an 82% discount, re-selling the goods and rapidly returning for more coins.  The event was memorable because I sold hundreds of cheap penny coins to people whom I would not expect to collect old pennies in such large quantities.

The following week, there were rumours that one publican lost over £20,000 from his cigarette vending machines in the city centre.  The vending machines were quickly re-calibrated to recognise the small differences between the old and new coins.

A further twist to this ‘scam’ occurred in 1999, when Irish punt coins dated 1999 (produced by the Royal Mint in London and not the Central Bank of Ireland in Sandyford) were rejected by many ‘super sensitive’ vending machines (incl. parking meters in Dublin) as they were lighter than the standard coins, having been produced from a different alloy.


Related Articles

Irish Pre-Decimal Coins (1928-1969)


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