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Last Updated: Wednesday, 1 December, 2004, 15:03 GMT
Pennies not so pretty
The penny has been part of British denomination since medieval times.

Few would believe the saying "see a penny, pick it up, all day long you'll have good luck", but glimpsing a tarnished copper on the pavement could actually become a rarity one day.

A survey of about 1,100 Britons found that a quarter would happily get rid of copper coins for good.

The modern 1p and 2p coins were introduced with the 1/2p when decimal currency began on 15 February 1971.

Medieval history

But as a denomination the penny has been around in British currency since medieval times, says Virginia Hewitt from the British Museum's Department of Coins and Medals.

Most people regard them as a nuisance, they clutter up your purse
Virgina Hewitt
British Museum

However even such a long contribution to commerce would not deter any modern desires to discard a piece of British history.

"Often when there is a change initially proposed, there is an emotional reaction, but that is very quickly replaced by pragmatism," she said.

"Most people regard them as a nuisance, they clutter up your purse. From my own point of view, when I find I have pennies, I want to get rid of them."

Although there are many pennies in the museum's collection, she said there would be no historical value for current pennies because the "volume is too great".

"The people using it on the street aren't going to think 'heavens, I'm losing something that has been in use since medieval times'.

"There's no emotional attachment as there would be for, say, the pound."


The 1/2p lasted until 1984, but there are no government plans to remove its larger cousins from circulation.

Of the estimated 26 billion UK coins in circulation as of 31 December last year, 10,133 million are pennies - roughly 172 for each person in the country.

The Royal Mint, maker of coins, issued 727.5 million 1p coins and 411.45 million 2p coins in the financial year 2003/04.

For the Royal Mint this would suggest "that there is a demand for these coins".

It pointed out that many products are priced "on the basis of 1.99 etc which requires a change of 1p".

The example of New Zealand, which abolished 1 cent and 2 cent coins in 1990, shows that consumers can get used to life without very small change.

Initially cash transactions were rounded to the nearest 5 cents - either up or down.

Eventually price tags were changed from $4.99, for example, to the slightly cheaper $4.95.

Fourteen years after that retailing change, the country's Reserve Bank is now consulting on whether to remove the 5 cent coin - which would see prices rounded to the nearest 10 cent.

Loose change

For British retailers, the abolition of copper coins would have a positive impact.

Federation of Small Businesses spokesman David Bishop said: "It would make an impact because dealing with a large number of coins is increasingly difficult for small businesses.

"The difficulty is in finding a local bank branch to take the change, as banks are cutting back in small towns and suburbs.

"It has security implications because of the need to have large amounts of cash on the premises to have enough change in the float," Mr Bishop said.

"And most people find them annoying, so there is an argument for looking at the demand for consumers in phasing them out."

What people think of copper coins

Anglo-Saxon coin fetches 230,000
06 Oct 04 |  Beds/Bucks/Herts
Coin smashes auction record
31 Jul 02 |  Americas
Spent pennies 100 years old
05 Aug 03 |  Bristol/Somerset
Coin hoard declared treasure
08 Apr 03 |  Leicestershire

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