25 January 2022
Discover the historical background to this interesting Victorian coin – issued between 1860 and 1894 – in this special coin guide, before reading our guide to prices paid online and at auction.
First minted in 1860, the ‘Bun Penny’ was a breakthrough in British coinage. It was the first type of bronze penny issued by the Royal Mint, the first of a series that would last until decimalisation in 1971. It was common in circulation in the United Kingdom until the 1960s. The series is one of the most commonly collected by UK coin collectors, but it comes in numerous varieties some of them exceptionally rare.
How much should you pay for a Queen Victoria Penny, issued between 1860 and 1894?
Despite the name 'coppers', Britain's small changes were bronze issues since 1860, though the old name persisted.
The switch from copper to less heavy bronze certainly reduced the weight of small changes in pockets and purses. It also answered the complaint that, when damp, copper coins stained fingers, even gloves. The copper also gave off a nose-wrinkling bad eggs smell offensive to middle-class Victorian sensibilities.
Rumoured coin error
A delay in the new bronze issues reaching all parts of the nation spawned newspaper stories that a fault had been discovered in the legend on obverses of the new money, with the abbreviation for BRITANNIA inscribed as BRITT, with two T’s in the phrase BRITT: REG.
Expert numismatists were given newspaper columns to explain that the Latin word abbreviated by BRITT was in fact BRITANNIARUM and that the complete phrase translated as QUEEN OF THE BRITISH ISLANDS.
In Latin inscriptions, abbreviated plurals have the final letter doubled, thus BRITT.
The Royal Mint made a decision to send barrels of coins to mainline railway stations where ticket office staff received instructions to give all change in new pennies and halfpennies.
At Sheffield local thieves broke into a station storeroom and trundled several barrels into their waiting getaway cart. The incident curtailed the Mint’s speedy circulation plan, and the thieves, who went on a small change spending spree around Sheffield shops, were soon in custody.
Circulation of the new change gradually ousted all old coppers by 1871. We settled down to a century of bronze low denominations until decimalization swept the remnants into collections and dealers’ stocks by 1971.
Interest in them has grown steadily, especially in the penny, now known affectionately as the bun penny.
Why is it called a 'Bun Penny'?
The coin (94 parts copper, 4 parts zinc, 2 parts tin) presents us with a handsome portrait of Victoria, described in the contemporary press as an especially truthful likeness, without the faintest attempt at flattery, and with a regal and classical expression.
The bun penny gets its name from Queen Victoria's hairstyle, which is gathered together in a 'bun'. She wears a laurel wreath, and a scarf embroidered with a rose, thistle and shamrock.
Britannia on the reverse sits on a rock against a seascape, with a ship and a lighthouse to left and right.
Experienced collectors seek out slight alterations to the portrait during the 34 years of production; and minor changes to the Britannia figure, the shield, the trident, the lighthouse and the ship. Several scarce or rare dates also offer challenges.
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