If you have heard of only one rare coin, there is a good chance that it is the 1933 penny. For some reason this coin, more than any other, has lodged itself in the public consciousness. Indeed, people have spent a lifetime sifting through their coins in a vain attempt to find one.
The banks possessed such large stocks of pennies in 1933 that it was not necessary to strike any more for general circulation. But there was a convention at the time that complete sets of coins of the current year were buried under the foundation stones of new buildings. Consequently three 1933 pennies were struck for buildings erected in that year, along with a small number to be kept as record copies by the British Museum and the Royal Mint Museum.
No record was kept at the time of how many pennies dated 1933 were made but it is thought to be no more than six or seven. With no precise record of the number made, and with the coin having been struck to ordinary circulation standard, it seemed possible that one might turn up in everyday use, prompting a generation to search their change for the rare but ultimately elusive penny of 1933.
In August 1970 it was discovered that thieves had stolen the set of coins deposited beneath the foundation stone of the Church of St Cross, Middleton, near Leeds. As a result a second set, buried beneath the foundation stone of St Mary’s Church, Hawksworth Wood, Kirkstall, Leeds, was removed on the instructions of the bishop and sold. As far as is known the third set is still in place.
You can see the 1933 penny for yourself by visiting our permanent exhibitions at the Royal Mint Experience.