Penny, George III (1760-1820), copper alloy, Great Britain, 1797
There had been a chronic shortage of copper coins of low denominations in Great Britain for many years. The onset of the French Revolutionary Wars forced the British Government into action to alleviate this situation if trade and commerce were not to suffer.
In 18th Century Britain, copper coins were regarded as token money but some attempt was made by authorities to keep their intrinsic value close to their face value. In 1797 Matthew Bolton was commissioned to reorganise the royal copper coinage, which by this time was in a condition of chaos. As part of this reorganisation, twopenny and penny coins were struck in copper for the first time. The weight of these coins at two ounces and one ounce respectively, made them unpopular and inconvenient to use. This drawback and the rising price of copper during the French Wars prompted Boulton to reduce the weight of subsequent issues and to abandon the twopenny pieces.
These coins were struck at Boulton┬?s privately owned Soho Mint, at Birmingham, on presses designed by James Watt, the famous steam engineer. An example of Watt┬?s steam-powered beam engine of roughly contemporary date is a major working exhibit at the Powerhouse Museum. These were the first fully machine-made coins.
They were soon nicknamed ┬?cartwheels┬? not only because of their size, but also because the rim around the coins bore a fancied resemblance to the iron tyres seen on heavy duty farm wagons. Because they were cheaper to acquire than kitchen weights and had precise weights, they were widely used for this purpose, often into the early decades of the 20th Century when it was not unusual to find them still in use for this domestic purpose in rural kitchens in Australia.
- From Sydney Mint Museum label written by curator, Major HP (Pat) Boland, c1982