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Victoria halfpenny

This coin is a Victorian copper halfpenny, which was sent in by Robert Davie. On the obverse it is dated 1838 beneath the young head of Victoria. Under the seated figure of Britannia on the reverse is a rose (for England), a thistle (for Scotland) and a shamrock (for Ireland).

Up to 1860 the penny and its fractions were made of copper. From 1860 onwards the penny and its fraction were made of bronze. The main reason for this change was that bronze was more hard-wearing than copper. Additionally, the bronze coins were smaller than the copper coins they replaced.

For me there is a great mystery attached to this changeover. Over the last 25 years I have unearthed hundreds of Victorian bronze pennies and those dated 1860 to 1863 are amongst the most common. I’ve also found 30-40 George III pennies dated 1797 and roughly the same number dated 1806 or 1807. I’ve only ever found one George IV penny (struck 1825-27) and none of William IV (struck 1831, 34 and 37). Coins of the last two reigns being struck in lower numbers than those of George III, it is to be expected that far fewer would be found in the soil.

Victorian copper pennies were struck in most years between 1839 and 1860. Many millions went into circulation so a high number should have been lost. However, in 25 years of detecting I have never unearthed a single copper penny of Victoria; out of all the detecting finds unearthed by other detectorists over the same time span only one of them showed me a single example. Therefore, the great mystery is why are Victorian copper coins so rare in the ground when bronze coins are so common? Plausible ideas on this would be welcomed.


I’ll now move back to Robert’s 1838 halfpenny. It would grade near Fine but the date is common, so it would be worth no more than £3 – £4 to a collector. On the plus side, few other detectorists will ever have found a Victorian copper halfpenny of any date.

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