The Thrupenny Bit – an Iconic Coin

3rd July 2014 — 36 Comments

2015-10-23 10.13.53I used to detect on a piece of land that had served the local village as a venue for fairs, church events and latterly, car boot sales. Although the finds were not all that spectacular, some could be interesting and worthy of comment.

Amongst the pipe tampers, barrel tap keys and such-like, there was different kinds of money. One such coin evoked memories of my early days living in a Durham pit village – and not only because it was dated for the year in which I was born! Here’s the coin:


Thrupenny Bit – © John Winter

At the time it was introduced – in 1937 – it was a radically new design having twelve sides, struck in nickel-brass, and planned for the new coinage of Edward VIII, who abdicated, having been uncrowned king for most of 1936.

This was a time when we still spent pounds and pence (not pee) in the shops, mobiles were things attached to ceilings, twittering was something done by birds and Neil Armstrong had yet to step on the lunar surface. In the middle of all this was the beautiful coin and one of my all-time favourites – the ‘thrupenny bit’. The design on the reverse of this coin is a hardy tufted thrift plant, a flower able to survive on coastal cliffs, mountains and salt marshes as it is wind, drought and salt-tolerant, thus able to survive on rather poor soil.

Courtesy Creative Commons

That’s why I’m reminded of another kind of thrift – perhaps the design was introduced to encourage economy in difficult times. Nothing was wasted in our home. Mother never threw away food. Father repaired shoes, made toys. We existed on very little, made do and mend, but I remember my (frugal?) childhood with affection. With the accession on Queen Elizabeth, the reverse design was changed to a portcullis.

ReverseThe coin was eventually withdrawn in 1971, six months after the introduction of decimal coinage – which did not have a denomination of three pence. I find it ironic that the portcullis, the symbol for the Palace of Westminster, is now firmly associated with excess, greed and waste. Time for a different design on our decimal pennies for which it was also adopted, methinks! I might even suggest the hardy sea pink (thrift). What do you reckon?

Sadly, the only reference to the iconic coin I now see is when Jeremy Clarkson and other motoring columnists talk about ‘thrupenny-bitting’ in their motoring columns. Evidently this is reference to a bumpy ride caused by a flat spot on the wheel – an analogy that will be lost on anyone born after 1970!


It’s interesting to see that a new £1 coin designed to combat counterfeiting and designed on the old thrupenny bit is due to be introduced in 2017. More details HERE.


Thrupenny bit bearing the head of King Edward VIII before he abdicated his throne to marry Wallis Simpson on sale for £30,000. Read more: HERE.


Factsheet courtesy of Brushwood Coins


This has been a a Resurrection Production


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36 responses to The Thrupenny Bit – an Iconic Coin

  1. Ah, yes Johannes, also popular rhyming slang; ‘thrupenny bits’, usually describes the morning after a fine Vindaloo, though often used instead of ‘Bristol City’s’. Nice to have you back.

  2. I agree John this coin with the twelve sided edge the “threepenny bit” is an iconic British coin. I doubt that there are many detectorists in England that have not found at least one in their time. The flower on the coin is called thrift. Why the Royal Mint chose such a plant I am uncertain? Maybe it had something to do with the World’s economic crisis of the the 1930’s?

  3. Well you have me looking up this coin:

    Damn, why do you Brits have to make everything so damn complicated?

  4. So good to have you back John! Every time I read your blog, I learn something new and you do have the gift of telling a story so well!

  5. My grandma used to look out for shiny thruppenny bits and give them to me to buy sweets. They were very attractive coins.

    Perhaps also they weren’t as common as we remember? I’ve found a few silver threepences but never a brass one. Mind you out in the fields of Norfolk any post-war coin is quite rare. Different if you have a good village fete or car boot site, like John says.

  6. Well that Threepenny bit takes me back to my childhood memories.
    Like yourself being from the Durham coalfield villages my father worked down Bowburn pit and his wage was pitiful but still managed to give me a threepenny bit pocket money each week which I bought a bag of chips on a Friday night which meant one extra meal each week which was a bit better than the usual jam and bread mind you that home made bread was something else nowt like the putty stuff and tasteless trash of today.

  7. Glad to have joined your blog in your return John, and pleased to see you put your tuppence worth in about the lowly thrupence!!

  8. 2 of those were a weeks pocket money.

    1 would pay for a Walls ice cream from the man on his tricycle. LOL

  9. when you were a lad John ,i bet you could go to the pictures ,get a ice cream ,fish n chips on the way home ,and still have change from a Threepenny Bit

  10. When my Grandad came home on his lunchbreak from being a railway boilermaker (yes, it was that long ago) he used to make me fight to open his fist which always had one of those in it. It would be spent on sweets on the way back to school. And somehow it didn’t seem confusing that there were 4 of these to a shilling and 20 shillings to the pound.

  11. nice history on the three pence John. our 3p pre- 1945 in Oz, were .925 silver & smaller than a sixpence. My Grandma always used to always put a few in her boiled plum puddings for christmas. even though was born after decimalisation, was a treat to get one, as collected coins as a kid

  12. As food seems to be the theme at present,what did I do with my threepenny pocket money?
    1. Bought a small glass of ginger beer from a shop called Little Gems for a 1d
    2. Also 4 gobstoppers for a 1d
    3. A bagful of broken biscuits from Woolworths for 1d. These I took to Clapham Junction where I lived and scoffed the lot watching the bohemoths of the Steam Age at the largest railway terminal in the world.

  13. A story

  14. A story. My aged old aunt was “in service” to Edward V111 at Fort Belvedere in Berkshire before the abdication. I can remember her showing me as a lad two shiny new thrupences that came out of two Royal Mint Purple bags. They had Edward V111 in the obverse and the thrift plant on the reverse but of a slightly different design. I was told I would get them when she passed on. I never got them. Some years ago I believe that similar coins went for 33,000 pounds in a USA auction.

    • That was a story worth waiting for Greg, Only 10 were minted. I wonder where they are now … worth a fortune!

    • I would like to think there were more than that minted John. I know that before any thrupennys of George V1 were generally circulated a good amount of the “new” coinage were issued to chocolate machine manufacturers (remember “5 Boys” chocolate and “Beech Nut” chewing gum?) and the like to make sure coins would work.

      I don’t think my aunt was an out and out tea-leaf but she had a bundle of memorabilia from her time with the Royal Household. Old menus, place settings, photo’s. She was asked to go the Bermuda with the household after he abdicated and was made Governor over there but gran put a brake on it as aunt had to be 21 to go and auntie was a few months shy of that. Auntie would always say Wallace Simpson was a right cow and HM was lovely.

  15. Yes John! I should have paid a penny for a platform ticket but the very nice man on the gate let me in for free every Saturday. I spotted some of the great steam engines.The Flying Scotsman, The Mallard with its green livery and The Sir Nigel Gresley with its pale blue. Days of innocence and exploration, memories placed in the locker of life.

  16. Sally atkinson 4th July 2014 at 8:35 AM

    As you know John, I was born in the U.S. but both parents British born. When we decided to settle back in the U.K. I was awe struck with the history.
    My Father bought a cheap metal detector to try and find treasure in our 15th century cottage. I remember one of the first coins we found in the garden was a three penny coin. And quite a few more to follow.
    Was such an unusual coin to me, and so exciting to dig up from our garden.
    When my Mum and Dad saw the first one come up from garden they both had special memories of the coinage then.
    I must admit now when I dig one up in a field I’m not quite so impressed lol but your article will make me look at them in whole different light again.

  17. Enjoyed reading that John, the memories came flooding back !

  18. A most interesting coin John; they were made to last and lasted they have. All three penny bits that I have recovered whilst detecting are in pretty good condition.

  19. any cleaning tips for these john, they always come out the ground that horrible pinky/brown colour.

    cheers the mole

  20. Hi Neil
    Thanks for subscribing to my blog.
    You may have gathered that I tend to leave well alone and only do minimal ‘cleaning’, so I am not really the one to ask.

    The thruppeny bits I have found have always been quite reasonable … the soil had been kind to therm.

  21. Very interesting article John. I enjoyed it a lot. It brought back to mind our Aussie habit of using slang, not unlike the Brits habit to do the same. Our slang for a threepence was ‘trey’. a trey bit. I believe it came from the French for three. Go figure. A sixpence was a ‘zac’. I am unsure whether it was peculiar to Oz because we also used Brit slang for a lot of things: ‘Bob, quid, tenner, etc.’

  22. Hi John
    Thanks for the great blogs you have allowed the club to post on our forum. They always make good reading and full of information.

    Cheers and Thanks,

  23. Please be advised that in my young day ‘thru penny bits’ were rhyming slang for tits and a two penny piece was ‘crease ‘ the area left by woman in tight shorts mentioned by comedian Lemon in ‘thru keyhole’. Great programme

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