Groats – Here’s a Fourpenny One!

18th November 2014 — 13 Comments
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Queen Mary I Groat – Issue date 1553 -1554 – © JW

Today I take the opportunity to show you some of the groats I have found over the years. I was spurred on by the fact that yesterday, the 17th November, Mary I Queen of England died and the ‘Virgin Queen’, Elizabeth I, ascended the throne – that was in 1558. The groat is the traditional name of a long-defunct English silver coin worth four pennies.

The Tudor groat shown above was recorded with the UKDFD in August 2011 and originally minted in London – notice the pomegranate privy mark after MARIA in the obverse legend, and after VERITAS in reverse legend showing that the coin was issued before her marriage. This privy (private or secret) mark was a device which allowed the mint to identify the particular production run. Incidentally, the record says that the coin was found with a C-Scope detector. Don’t know where that came from; I have never owned such a machine.

Fourpenny One – If I can go off on one to those tangents for a moment – I don’t know where the phrase ‘fourpenny one’ originated, (British slang for a hit, especially with the fist) but was intrigued to discover an item in the Pitt Rivers Museum collection that perhaps provides an explanation for the phrase. I spied a knuckleduster described as “fighting rings made from four George III half pennies … and riveted together at one point”. As my doppelgänger Dick Stout might say in his Yankee drawl, “Der ya go!” 


NB: A version of what follows was previously published earlier this year. My collection of coins and artefacts are a reminder of the days when I was fit, reasonably healthy and able to trudge around stubble fields for hours. I was lost in my own world. Difficulties in swinging the coil and the unavoidable lacerated legs from the spear-like stubble didn’t deter me. I was invincible! Those days are long gone …

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The angle of the shot makes a difference! Click to enlarge. © JW

I have several half groats in my collection, found in such conditions, including a Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. The groat was discontinued in 1662, but was revived by William IV in 1836. You will notice that I wasn’t in the habit of destroying my coins by energetic cleaning. Pictures below show the obverse and reverse of a couple of Victorian Groats. Click to enlarge.


Groat Obverse – © JW


Groat Reverse – © JW

These new coins were the same diameter as the threepence of the time, but were thicker and had a milled edge. Notice also that the reverse has a representation of Britannia, thus the term ‘Britannia Groat’. It was issued regularly until 1855, when it dropped out of use in the UK because of confusion with the 3d (basically the same size) which started to be issued for general circulation in 1845.

The coin was never commonly referred to as a groat. The phrase ‘fourpenny bit’ was usual. The interesting piece of history associated with the fourpenny piece is that it was also known as a JOEY after the Member of Parliament, Joseph Hume, who campaigned for its introduction.

I believe that the reasoning for this was that the standard price of hiring a Hansom Cab at the time was fourpence, and that the coin therefore didn’t require the change that a sixpence did. As you can imagine this wasn’t popular with cab drivers who were often given the tuppence change from sixpence as a tip! The Wikipedia Commons picture shows Joseph Hume by John Whitehead Walton. Click to enlarge.

After the groat was discontinued the silver threepence became known as the ‘Joey’.


I have also found several HALF groats over the years. This one is a Henry VIII, from the 1500′s. Click image to enlarge.

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Henry VIII Half Groat – © JW



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13 responses to Groats – Here’s a Fourpenny One!

  1. Excellent article again, John – plus I learned something, which is always a bonus! Keep up the good work.

  2. Morning John another interesting article for us all top read.

    Being threatened with a “Fourpenny” one was fairly common place when we were naughty as children.

    This also brings the word “clout” to mind.

    Keep up the good work. Jerry.

  3. Stuart – who comes from Scotland – says that putting coins in the fist for a ‘heavier hit’ still goes on today.I take his word for it …

  4. I was taught that a rolled up newspaper and three old pennys made a good emergency nuckle-duster. Sign of a misspent youth?

  5. Of all the medieval coins my favourites are groats, especially because of their design and size.
    In recent years I have found two brass knuckle dusters on local farms. Both of these were found next to barns. I don’t think farmers were into punching cows and so another explanation must be considered. Perhaps they were used in illegal money fights?

  6. Only quoted your “Joey” fact at the weekend John, now next weekend I can put the record straight by saying that the groat was called a Joey first and the threepence afterwards ! Oops ! but a least I got the Hansom cab bit right !

  7. You said:

    “My collection of coins and artefacts are a reminder of the days when I was fit, reasonably healthy and able to trudge around stubble fields for hours. I was lost in my own world. Difficulties in swinging the coil and the unavoidable lacerated legs from the spear-like stubble didn’t deter me. I was invincible! Those days are long gone …”

    I was going to say me too but perhaps “der ya go” is more appropriate. And I am NOT a Texan, but rather a lost Yankee!

  8. Richard Stout … a Yankee lost in Texas!
    Please accept my apologies for the mistake … now corrected.

  9. Another nice piece of history John and a pleasure to read as always

  10. All new information to me and very interesting it is. I had no idea a groat was worth four pennies.

  11. Great article John. To be able to find and hold such history in your hands makes me envious.

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