Editor's note: this is the second part of a story by Jeff Starck
about Depression-era coins that shouldn't exist but that were issued
under strange circumstances. The article originally appears in the
December monthly issue of Coin World.
Great Britain’s 1933 penny is another coin that can’t be explained
fully and has become famous.
The subject of media attention, pocket change searches and intrigue
for decades, as the Royal Mint Museum website remarks, “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.”
With banks awash in a sea of coins in the Great Depression, no
pennies were produced in 1933 for general circulation.
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So, why were some made anyway?
A custom of the time called for complete sets of coins of the
current year to be buried under the foundation stones of new
buildings. Consequently, three 1933 pennies were struck, in Proof, for
buildings erected in that year, along with a small number of
circulation examples to be kept by the British Museum and the Royal
Mint Museum. The number of 1933-dated pennies 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 standards, 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.
According to dealer Lawrence Chard, of Chard, “People like a good
entertaining story, and are quite happy to believe it, embellish it,
and re-broadcast it. The media helps this process along, often through
inaccurate reporting, preferring not to let truth or accuracy stand in
the way of a good yarn,” he wrote online at
https://24carat.co.uk/frame.php?url=1933penny.html. “Readers like to
think they can make money for nothing, so are prepared to believe what
the media, or others, tell them.”
As with the 1930 Australian penny and 1936 Canadian Dot cent, fakes
of the 1933 penny abound, with forgers often altering dates on common
coins. Other would-be 1933 pennies are actually pennies from elsewhere
in the British realm, like Australia, British West Africa, Jersey, or Ireland.
In August 1970, it was discovered that thieves had stolen the set of
1933 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 it was sold, in a 1972 Sotheby’s auction.
As far as is known, the third set is still in place under the
foundation stone of the University of London Building in Bloomsbury, London.
Besides the circulation examples in the British Museum and Royal
Mint Museum, another circulation example, held in private hands, was
sold by Glendinings in 1969.
The final known circulation example was once part of the Emory May
Norweb Collection. Graded MS-63 brown by NGC, Heritage Auctions sold
this coin during its Aug. 11, 2016, auction in Anaheim, Calif., where
it realized $193,875 including the 17.5 percent buyer’s fee.
In addition to the seven known 1933 British penny examples, and of
even greater rarity and value, is a 1933 pattern penny, engraved for
the Royal Mint by French artist Andre Lavillier. Only four of the 1933
pattern pennies are known to exist. The pattern differs from the
“regular” 1933 penny in a few details, including a different set of
The neck is perhaps the easiest point to distinguish between coins
of the standard design and the pattern, where Lavrillier’s AL initials
are next to Bertram McKennal’s BM initials.
One of the pattern pennies realized £86,400 ($126,495 U.S.)
including the 20 percent buyer’s fee, during a May 4, 2016, auction in London.
Keep reading about Depression-era coins that shouldn't exist:
Depression-era Commonwealth ‘cents’ that
shouldn’t even exist, but do: Though not the rarest
Australian coin, the 1930 penny has legendary status among
Australian commonwealth coins.
Royal romance and
abdication lead to Canada’s 1936 Dot cent rarity: King
Edward VIII’s abdication of the throne to marry Wallis Simpson in
1936 led Canada to create one of that country’s most famous
rarities, the 1936 Dot cent.