The UK decimalised its monetary system on February 15th 1971, and one of the new coins to replace the old system of pounds, shillings and pence was the Half Penny coin. Today it seems hard to believe that there was ever a need for such a small denomination, but these days 1p is such a small amount of money in real terms that it’s almost not worth having a One Pence coin. The only reason it still exists, I am convinced, is for purely psychological reasons. As an example, consider this. Why does Â£99.99 seem to feel a substantially smaller price than Â£100.00?
Anyway, back to the topic at hand, the dear old Half Penny. Sized slightly smaller than a One Pence piece, it was a “copper” coin, so called because of its colour rather than its composition, as it was actually made of bronze. One one side was Queen Elizabeth II’s head, and on the other a crown and the words NEW PENNY, and the fractional number 1/2. It kept this design for over ten years, but in 1982 it was finally decided that the decimal coinage wasn’t new any more, so the wording changed to HALF PENNY. This change was a bit of a waste of time however, as inflation finally caught up with the Half Penny in 1984, when it was deemed no longer necessary and removed from the UK coinage system.
I remember using my Half Penny coins in the sweet shop to stretch how many penny sweets I could buy. I’m sure that foamy shrimps only cost half a pence, as I definitely remember getting two for a penny from our sweetie shop when the Half Penny was phased out. Apart from penny sweets, the only thing I can remember the Half Penny being useful for was when buying petrol (not something I did an awful lot of as a kid) or perhaps in the supermarket, where I’m sure a baked beans would probably be given a half pence discount to encourage you to buy a tin.
The other thing that will always stick in my mind about the Half Penny is Blue Peter using them for one of their craft projects. They didn’t come up with anything that impressive, it was mainly about using the Half Penny coins to decorate things by sticking them all over every day objects. I think they suggested sticking them to a belt, and there had to be a pen pot, as this was a stalwart Blue Peter craft item. Why it sticks in my memory is that they suggested returning the coins to their former sparkle by rubbing them with Brown Sauce (like original HP sauce or Daddie’s Sauce, if you remember that!). Now, I was never a fan of brown sauce anyway, but seeing this put me off it all the more, as I wondered what the heck it must do to my stomach!