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1984: Halfpenny coin to meet its maker

Britain's least-loved currency, the halfpenny coin, is leaving the nation's purses after 13 years of almost universal unpopularity.

The Chancellor, Nigel Lawson, made the announcement in a written Commons answer. He said the Royal Mint would stop making the tiny coin at the end of the month, and it would cease to be legal tender in 1984.

Banks are to send unused stocks back to the Royal Mint to be melted down.

The halfpenny coin's fate was sealed when it became more expensive to make than its face value.

"Most people don't even bother to pick them up when they drop them"

Anthony Beaumont-Dark, Conservative MP

Until Christmas, the Treasury had argued that the halfpenny was an important factor in the fight against inflation, but now even this defence has been dropped.

Even so, the government fears that retailers will round up any items currently priced with an odd halfpence at the end.

If this happens in all cases, it will have a significant effect on the retail price index.

But supermarkets were quick to reassure customers. Sir John Sainsbury, the chairman of the Sainsbury's supermarket chain, said that though some prices would rise, many more would be rounded down.

"We'll probably have to put the prices up somewhere else," he said, "so shopping basket prices overall will be about the same."

More uncertain will be the fate of the best-known prices ending in that odd half-penny.

Second class stamps - currently 12p - will probably go up to 13p by the end of the year, while the dog licence is likely to change for the first time in years from 37p to 38p.

The charity Age Concern believes these small rises will have a disproportionate effect on those who can least afford them.

"For pensioners on a small budget especially those buying small quantities, even a halfpence counts," said Sally Greengross, the charity's deputy director.

"This can only mean further cuts in their living standards."

Elsewhere, though, the demise of the halfpenny goes unmourned. Anthony Beaumont-Dark, Conservative MP for Birmingham Selly Oak, whose question in the Commons prompted the Chancellor to sound the coin's death knell, was happy to see it go.

"Most people don't even bother to pick them up when they drop them," he said. "They are glad to be rid of them."

In Context
There were 2.5bn halfpennies, worth 12.5m, still in circulation when the announcement was made, mostly languishing in collecting jars or behind sofas.

Charities were quick to realise they could cash in on the windfall, and launched national campaigns to encourage people to hand over their unwanted halfpennies.

The halfpenny coin was the last denomination to be withdrawn, although coins have been redesigned and new denominations, like the two-pound coin, introduced.

However, Britain is now debating whether to give up all denominations in favour of the Euro.

So far the government has held back, although 12 other European countries replaced their own currencies with the Euro on 1 January 2002.

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