This site is designed to help halfpenny collectors identify the various varieties of the English milled bronze halfpenny.
Let me try to define the term “variety”
In numismatic terms, it is desirable to be able to define any single physical coin with a unique identifier of some sort. This identifier uniquely defines the combination of date, obverse design and reverse design and is used to catalogue coins. It does not define anything to do with the condition or rarity of the coin. Let me further expand on the 3 dimensions of variety:
Date:- this is the date struck on either the obverse or reverse of the coin, usually a 4-digit year number but not necessarily the year that the coin was actually struck by the mint.
Obverse design:- this is the unique design, usually of the monarch’s head that is converted into a die used to strike the coin. During a particular monarch’s reign, there is often more than one obverse design produced for various reasons such as to improve the durability of the coinage, for aesthetic improvement or to reflect the ageing of the monarch. etc. Each separate obverse design obviously needs a unique identifier in order to derive a unique variety as it is common for more than one obverse design to be struck on coins in a particular year.
Reverse design:- this is the unique design that is converted into a die used to strike the opposite side of the coin to the obverse. For many years of predecimal coinage, an image of Britannia was used as the central theme of the reverse design. During a particular monarch’s reign, there can be more than one reverse design produced for various reasons such as to improve the durability or aesthetics of the coinage. Each separate reverse design needs a unique identifier in order to derive a unique variety as it is common for more than one reverse design to be struck on coins in a particular year.
The eminent numismatists C Wilson Peck and Michael Freeman produced splendid publications (see References below) in which they assigned their own particular identifiers to a range of coins to allow collectors to easily and non-subjectively identify coins. For example, an 1861 penny bearing a portrait of Queen Victoria on the obverse with the engraver’s name (L C WYON) engraved below the bust (designated by Freeman as obverse 4) and struck with a lighthouse with a distinctive rounded top (designated as reverse F) was recorded by Freeman as number 24. Thus a penny described as F24 uniquely defines this particular coin.
This website attempts to describe and illustrate all the known varieties of bronze halfpenny and is largely inspired by Michael Freeman’s classic book, “The Bronze Coinage of Great Britain”. In most cases I have used Freeman’s own descriptions of obverse and reverse designs, occasionally modified with my own observations.
Much as Michael Gouby expanded on Freeman’s work to identify further varieties of bronze penny, Iain Dracott has recorded further varieties and die-pairings of Victorian bronze halfpennies. These were listed in his articles in Coin News (April, May and July 2004) and I have attempted to include all these additional varieties on this website.
I am also grateful to Malcolm Lewendon for his advice and invaluable information.
Freeman’s original book was published in 1970 and contained fairly small black and white photographs of the coins which did not always provide helpful aids to identification of different varieties. Coupled with the fact that Freeman almost certainly didn’t have high resolution scans to help him examine coins, his original descriptions may lend themselves to slight modification when coins are examined using 21st century technology. I have included modern photographs of high grade coins on this website, which should improve the ability of collectors to correctly identify their coins. Pictures are largely taken from the various coin auction and dealer sites that hold photographs of their lots and I am grateful for their availability to London Coins Ltd, Colin Cooke and other auction companies. Thanks also to Paddy Bowen and others for pictures from their collections.
In many cases, a particular variety of a coin may exist with minor variations produced in the minting process, such as an erroneous repair to a working die that produced a misplaced date numeral or numeral struck over an existing numeral. There are many causes of such variations and they lead to much discussion as to whether they are true, recordable “varieties”. Unless they have been allocated formal Peck or Freeman numbers, I tend to classify them as “sub-varieties” on this website.
Note: this is still work in progress and subject to change on a daily basis until I am satisfied with the content. I may also attempt to expand further into copper halfpennies in the future.
C Wilson Peck – English Copper, Tin and Bronze Coins In The British Museum 1558-1958
Michael Freeman – The Bronze Coinage Of Great Britain
Iain Dracott – Coin News articles (April, May & July 2004)
I hope you enjoy this site and that it helps you learn more about the fascinating subject of Numismatics and, in particular, about English pre-decimal halfpennies. I will always be delighted to learn about newly discovered varieties not mentioned on this website (and details of any errors or omissions).
Richard Sessions (firstname.lastname@example.org)