The penny is the great survivor of the British coinage system. Derived indirectly from the old Roman denarius, it existed as a small silver coin from Anglo-Saxon times. It survived the Norman Conquest of 1066 and continued to be struck for circulation until the middle of the 17th century, 12 pennies making a shilling and 20 shillings a pound.
Because of the rising price of silver the penny became progressively smaller and from the Restoration of Charles II in 1660 it was struck only for use as part of the Royal Maundy. Silver pennies are still struck today for the same purpose, nearly 1400 years after the penny first appeared as a small silver coin.
In 1797 the penny was struck for the first time as a large copper coin. These cartwheel pennies of 1797 proved popular and continued to circulate, along with later and slightly lighter copper pennies, until 1860.
In that year copper pennies were replaced by smaller, thinner and more durable coins in bronze. Originally known as bun pennies from Queen Victoria’s portrait on the obverse, these and later issues of the bronze penny remained in circulation until the time of decimalisation in 1971.
In the form of a new penny it survived decimalisation but with its value changed to one-100th of a pound. At the same time the seated figure of Britannia, which had been a feature of all copper and bronze pennies, was replaced by a crowned portcullis as the symbol of Parliament.