I’ve just spent a frantic half hour looking for all the copper pre-decimal UK pennies that I’d ever found. Why? A throwaway comment on an American detecting forum from a guy living in New Mexico was the catalyst for my search.
He said that when he lived in the UK ‘they’ would ‘get a kick’ when finding what was called a ‘passion penny’, but he refused to go into details. This whetted my appetite even further.
I must have spent a very sheltered and somewhat naive childhood because the nearest I ever got to ‘passion’ was collecting bus tickets. The serial numbers most prized were those in which the sum of the digits added up to twenty one, like in my example.
From what I remember such numbers were thought to influence the future. If the ticket was given to a person of the opposite sex, then they would be the one that you would marry … or something like that! Except that if it was threw it away, that love was discarded. I don’t remember ever finding one! But, I digress …
In 40’s and 50’s England, Victorian pennies were still in circulation and I happen to have quite a few in my collection found when metal detecting. I soon found what I was looking for, but I wanted to know more.
At times like this that friendly Mr. Google is the first port of call, but on this occasion he let me down. In retrospect, it wasn’t a good idea to use the phrase PASSION PENNY as my search. I won’t go into intimate details, but one of the most innocent and alluring returns (still naive?) to my enquiry was seductive and passionate curvy escort near Gatwick.
I must say that it isn’t often that an American tells me something about my own currency that I don’t already know. This was a first. My Texas cowpoke friend, doppelgänger and fellow uber-blogger Dick Stout has often said that he learns a lot about American history from some of my blog posts.
Okay, okay. Please be patient and I’ll get to the point! First, I want you to take a good look at the reverses of the old English pennies above. Click the image to enlarge if you would like to see a bigger picture.
Take particular note of the trident Britannia holds in her hand. The earlier issue shown on the right shows her holding it at a slightly different angle, with the lower end towards her … like a large dildo! Because of this it was dubbed the passion or vulgar penny. There is a story, most certainly a myth, that the guy who designed the coins was Irish and he disliked Great Britain.
Supposedly, as an insult, he depicted the trident as going between Victoria’s legs. The insult went unnoticed for several years. When officials finally recognised the slight, the coins were considered to be ‘vulgar’ because of the indecently sexualised Britannia, and the design was altered. I don’t know if Victoria was amused or not, but I found that an interesting and amusing story … and one that was new to me! The truth is that the engraver was a chap called William Wyon and although of German descent, he was born in Birmingham.
The design showing Britannia with trident angled inward towards her upper thigh predated the minting of Victoria’s pennies and was quite common on copper coins and undermines the myth’s assertion that the pose was offensive. See the George IV coin above.
Many of you have informed me that bronze pennies minted between 1860 and 1894 were also known as ‘Honolulu’ pennies due to the position of the trident compared to those of later pre-decimal pennies.