Iconic coins don’t have to be expensive.
Few coins offer as much history and represent as many “firsts” like the copper penny and twopence “cartwheels” of Great Britain in the late 18th century.
At the same time that a copper coinage shortage afflicted Great Britain, private minter Matthew Boulton was developing steam power to produce coinage.
It took nine years for Boulton to convince the Royal Mint that his Soho Mint could strike copper coins using steam technology, filling a need for circulating coins while marking the advance of coinage production technology.
The 1797 copper coins were struck at the Soho Mint under contract with the Royal Mint and were the first English regal coinage struck by steam power. They are “remarkable for their size and their workmanship,” according to Peter Seaby in The Story of English Coinage.
Conrad Kuchler’s design for the obverse shows a draped George III instead of the standard cuirassed, or armored, look usually given to the monarch, and Britannia on the reverse now represents Britain’s increasing maritime might, her trident replacing the spear and waves and sailing ship added to the scene.
The coins’ circulation soon quelled the need for privately struck and circulated tokens, which had filled the gap during the latter part of the 18th century while the Royal Mint did little to address growing demand for base metal coinage.
Counterfeits were also rendered “almost impossible,” Seaby wrote, thanks to the technological leap.
The penny weighs 1 ounce avordupois and the twopence, 2 ounces; the penny measures about 35 millimeters in diameter and the twopence is 40 millimeters in diameter. The size and weight of both denominations earned them the nickname of “cartwheels.”
The coins are by no means common — production of the penny continued for two more years, though all are dated 1797. Twopence coins, however, did not remain in circulation long, because of their size.