A penny (pl. pence or pennies) is a coin or a unit of currency used in several English-speaking countries.


In the 8th century, Charlemagne declared that 240 pennies or pfennigs should be minted from a pound of silver. A Carolingian pound was approximately 326 grams, so a single coin thus contained about 1.36 grams of silver. (Today, this amount of silver would cost about 40p sterling.)

The penny is among the lowest denomination of coins in circulation.
* 1/100 of the British pound sterling ("see British one penny coin"), the former Irish pound, the Gibraltar pound, the Falkland Islands pound, or a coin with that value: see history of the English penny.
* 1/240 of the British pound sterling or Irish pound prior to February 15, 1971, of the Pound Scots prior to 1707, and also the pre-decimalisation currencies of Australia, New Zealand and South Africa (1/12 of the shilling), or a coin of that value.
* The preferred name for the one-cent coin in the United States and in Canada, worth 1/100 of the dollar: see penny (U.S. coin), penny (Canadian coin).

In addition, variants of the word "penny", with which they share a common root, are or were the names of certain units of currency in non-English-speaking countries:
* A fening is 1/100 of a Bosnia and Herzegovina convertible mark
* A pfennig was 1/100 of a German mark
* A penni was 1/100 of a Finnish markka

In the United States and Canada, "penny" is normally used to refer to the coin; the quantity of money is a "cent." Elsewhere in the English-speaking world, the plural of "penny" is "pence" when referring to a quantity of money and "pennies" when referring to a number of coins [cite web|title="Penny - Oxford English Dictionary"||url=] . Thus a coin worth five times as much as one penny is worth five pence, but "five pennies" means five coins, each of which is a penny.

When dealing with British or Irish (pound) money, amounts of the decimal "new pence" less than £1 may be suffixed with "p", as in 2p, 5p, 26p, 72p. Pre-1971 amounts of less than 1/- (one shilling) were denoted with a "d" which derived from the term "denarius", as in 2d, 6d, 10d. The lettering "new penny" or "new pence" was changed to "one penny", "two pence" or "five pence", etc. on British decimal coinage in 1982. Irish pound decimal coinage only used "p" to designate units (possibly as this sufficed for both the English word "pence", and Irish form "pingin").

The British penny as a unit of currency dates back well over a thousand years, and for most of that period the silver penny was the principal denomination in circulation.

Other uses

Coin image box 2 singles
header =

image_right =

caption_left = Draped bust of Aethelred left. +ÆĐELRED REX ANGLOR
caption_right = Long cross. +EADǷOLD MO CÆNT
width_left = 150
width_right = 150
position = left
margin =4
footer = Anglo-Saxon silver 'Long Cross' penny of Aethelred II, moneyer Eadwold, Canterbury, "c." 997-1003. The cross made cutting the coin into half-pennies or farthings (quarter-pennies) easier. (Note spelling "Eadƿold" in inscription, using Anglo-Saxon letter wynn in place of modern "w.")

To "spend a penny" in British idiom means to urinate. The etymology of the phrase is literal; some public toilets used to be coin-operated, with a pre-decimal penny being the charge levied. Eventually, at around the same time as the introduction of decimal coinage, British Rail gradually introduced better public toilets with the name "Superloo" and the much higher charge of 6d. [ [ BBC Nation on Film - Rise and Fall of LNER] Mod Cons - Engines Must Not Enter the Potato Siding: "Spend a 6d in the superloo"]

Finding a penny is sometimes considered lucky and gives rise to the saying, "Find a penny, pick it up, and all the day: you'll have good luck." This may be a corruption of "See a pin and pick it up, all the day you'll have good luck" and similar verses, as quoted in The Frank C. Brown Collection of North Carolina Folklore and other sources.


In the US, the length of a nail is designated by its "penny size". This unit's abbreviation is "d" (e.g. 10d for 10 penny nails), as for British pence before decimalization. A smaller number indicates a shorter nail and a larger number indicates a longer nail. Nails under 1¼ in., often called brads, are sold mostly in small packages with only a length designation (e.g. ½" (12 mm), 1⅛" (28 mm), etc.).

It is commonly believed that the origin of the term "penny" in relation to nail size is based on the old custom in England of selling nails by the hundred. A hundred nails that sold for six pence were "six penny" nails. The larger the nail, the more a hundred nails would cost, hence the larger nails have a larger number for their "penny size". This classification system was still used in England in the 18th century, but is obsolete there now.


The physical handling and counting of pennies creates transaction costs that may be higher than a penny for every penny spent. Furthermore, as has been claimed for micropayments, due to mental transaction costs one penny may exceed the useful price granularity of almost all products and services sold over the counter—granularities of five or ten pence may be sufficient. [ [ Error ] ] Also, inflation periodically causes the metal value of pennies to exceed their face value, making them wasteful to mint. [New York Times, " [ AROUND THE NATION; Treasurer Says Zinc Penny May Save $50 Million a Year] ", April 1, 1981] [USA Today, Barbara Hagenbaugh, " [ Coins cost more to make than face value] ", May 10, 2006] Several nations have stopped minting equivalent value coins, and efforts have been made to end the routine use of pennies in several countries, including Canada and the United States. [cite web | last = Lewis | first = Mark | title = Ban The Penny | publisher = | date = 2002-07-05 | url = | accessdate = 2007-07-16 ] However, the retail community supports the penny because of the advertising tactic of using 99 pence/cents to make something appear to have a lower price than it actually does.Fact|date=September 2008

ee also

* Penny (Australian coin)
* Penny (British coin)
** British one penny coin (pre-decimal)
** British coinage
* Penny (Canadian coin)
* Irish penny coin
**Irish penny (decimal coin)
* Penny (United States coin)
** United States coinage
** History of the Lincoln cent
** 1943 steel cent
** 1955 doubled die cent
** 1974 aluminum cent
** Take a penny, leave a penny
** Legal Tender Modernization Act
** Efforts to eliminate the penny in the United States
* Pfennig
* Smashed penny


External links

* [ The MegaPenny Project] - A visualisation of what exponential numbers of pennies would look like.
* [ Silver Pennies] - Pictures of English silver pennies from Anglo-Saxon times to the present.
* [ Copper Pennies] - Pictures of English copper pennies from 1797 to 1860.

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • penny — penny …   Dictionnaire des rimes

  • penny — [ peni ] n. m. • v. 1450; mot angl. ♦ Un penny, des pence [ pɛns ]. Monnaie anglaise, autrefois le douzième du shilling; depuis l adoption du système décimal, le centième de la livre. « gigotant d un mauvais pied pour un penny, pour deux pences… …   Encyclopédie Universelle

  • PENNY — ist: eine alte Währungseinheit und Münze im englischen Sprachraum, siehe Penny (Münze) eine davon abgeleitete Bezeichnung für amerikanische Cents Kurzbezeichnung für die englische Briefmarke One Penny Black, die ab 1840 ausgegeben wurde eine… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Penny — Pen*ny, n.; pl. {Pennies}or {Pence}. Pennies denotes the number of coins; pence the amount of pennies in value. [OE. peni, AS. penig, pening, pending; akin to D. penning, OHG. pfenning, pfenting, G. pfennig, Icel. penningr; of uncertain origin.]… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Penny — ist: eine alte Währungseinheit und Münze im englischen Sprachraum, siehe Penny (Münze) eine umgangssprachliche Bezeichnung für die 1 Cent Münze (Vereinigte Staaten) Kurzbezeichnung für die englische Briefmarke One Penny Black, die ab 1840… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • penny — ► NOUN (pl. pennies (for separate coins); pence (for a sum of money)) 1) a British bronze coin worth one hundredth of a pound. 2) a former British coin worth one twelfth of a shilling and 240th of a pound. 3) N. Amer. informal a one cent coin. ●… …   English terms dictionary

  • Penny — Saltar a navegación, búsqueda La palabra inglesa Penny puede referirse a: Personajes ficticios Penny, un personaje de la comedia The Big Bang Theory. Penny, un personaje de la serie Lost. Penny Halliwell, personaje de ficción de la serie… …   Wikipedia Español

  • penny — O.E. pening, penig penny, from P.Gmc. *panninggaz (Cf. O.N. penningr, Swed. pänning, O.Fris. panning, M.Du. pennic, O.H.G. pfenning, Ger. Pfennig, not recorded in Gothic, where skatts is used instead), of unknown origin. The English coin was… …   Etymology dictionary

  • penny — [pen′ē] n. pl. for 1 a & b, pence; for 1 c, 2 4, pennies [ME peny < OE penig, pening, akin to Ger pfennig: < ? early WGmc borrowing < L pannus, cloth: see PAWN1] 1. in the United Kingdom and certain other countries, a) a monetary unit… …   English World dictionary

  • penny — pen‧ny [ˈpeni] noun [countable] 1. abbreviation p pence PLURALFORM a unit of money used in Britain since 1971. There are 100 pence in one pound: • It only costs a few pence …   Financial and business terms

  • Penny — Pen ny, a. Worth or costing one penny. [1913 Webster] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

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