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Numismatics > Penny coins

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Double-headed cheating penny used in two-up gambling games, Australia, 1911 - 1935
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Object statement
Double-headed penny, possibly created for two-up games, George V design (reigned 1911-35), copper-alloy, maker unknown, Australia, minted and converted after 1911
'Apart from the occasional madman who risked his neck by running a [two-up] school with a double-headed penny, two-up schools were generally fair and well run.' (Peter Charlton 1987 p258).

In gambling pastimes such as the Australian game of 'two-up' the inclusion of a double-sided coin ensured the cheating player could be assured of a win. In the case of 'two-up', money was wagered on varying combinations of single and multiple tosses of two or three pennies thrown from a wooden paddle or 'kip'. The coins had to be tossed at least 10 feet (4 metres) high in the air and fall within a circle marked on the ground. Money was paid upon the completion of three successive tosses of 'heads' - making this cheating penny a potentially valuable if risky 'asset'.

Two-up, as represented by this 'cheater's penny', is symbolic of the Australian tolerance and fondness for gambling - even if in this case at any cost. The Australian attachment to gambling is often seen in 'romantic versions of Australian history . . . as an important element of an easy-going, egalitarian national character' (Pickett 2004 p2). Two-up features in poetry, book and film and includes 'Come in Spinner' (1951) the title of which perpetuates the cry of the watching crowd as the coins spin into the air, and the 'Sentimental Bloke' (1919) whose hero is a reformed two-up player. Nevertheless while gambling has been embraced as a part of Australia's popular culture and national identity, the documented occurrences of addiction leading to bankruptcy, failed relationships and even suicide paint an altogether different picture (Pickett 2004 p2).

Two-up came under the same New South Wales state legislation as other unlegislated gambling thus making it illegal since the 1800s. However, in deference to the popularity of the game with Australian soldiers in two World Wars, since 1998 it has been legal to play two-up on ANZAC Day - the day when Australia commemorates the sacrifices of its armed forces.

Paul Donnelly, curator design, history and society

Refs:
Charles Pickett, 'Gambling in Australia: thrills, spills, and social ills', Powerhouse Publishing, Sydney, 2004
Peter Charlton, 'Two flies up a wall: the Australian passion for gambling', North Ryde, 1987 pp 257-275
Australian War Memorial website: http://www.awm.gov.au/encyclopedia/two_up/index.asp
GAMBLING (TWO-UP) ACT 1998 (As at 13 December 2007 - Act 115 of 1998):
http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/legis/nsw/consol_act/ga1998168/
This coin is composed from two Australian pennies produced during the reign of the British king George V. Each coin had been shaved down to half its depth leaving only the obverse (front) side with the king's head. The two were then joined [soldered] together to form a single double-headed coin. With close inspection the seam between the two coins can be viewed with the naked eye.

The date of a penny is on the reverse (ONE PENNY side of each penny which in this example are missing so the exact dates of the coins are not known. Each king's head wears a crown so we can be sure the coin was composed of Australian coins rather than British which were without a crown. The coins show some wear and tear from general circulation prior to conversion making them likely combined into the 'cheating penny' at the earliest during World War I (1914-1918) and at the latest World War II depending on when the original coins were minted.

Paul Donnelly,
Curator design and history
The gambling game of 'two-up' was derived from the British game of 'pitch and toss' whose simplicity requiring only coins ensured its popularity endured and developed from early convict days. It became so popular that two-up acquired the status of a national game - a reputation that ignored its illegality - and which became further entrenched in the predominantly masculine environments of the goldfields and the Australian armed forces during World War I and II.

The inclusion of a double-sided coin ensured the cheating player could be assured of a win. In the case of 'two-up', money was wagered on varying combinations of single and multiple tosses of two or three pennies thrown from a wooden paddle or 'kip'. The coins had to be tossed at least 10 feet (4 metres) high in the air and fall within a circle marked on the ground.

To improve visibility of the result of a toss in two-up the head side was polished to a shine or painted with a cross, while the tail side was left with its natural darker colour achieved with circulation. The owner of the game (the boxer) had on offer pennies of different monarchs sometimes known by nick-names - Queenies (Victoria), Baldies (Edward VII), George V, and George VI. A double headed penny was especially useful in two-up because 'So long as the spinner keeps showing heads, he can continue to throw' because it was only after three tossing three sets of heads that winnings could be collected (Peter Charlton 1987 p258). It is assumed that this coin was used in two-up because of the advantage a heads result gave in that game. However, this particular coin has its original dark patina from normal circulation rather than a polished surface and so could possibly have been used for cheating in other coin-tossing games.

However, while the chance of monetary reward was increased by the inclusion of a double-headed penny in the toss, the risk of detection had its dangers as seen with deserting Australian soldiers captured by their own forces in France, 1918, "' . . . when searching B we took a double-headed penny off of him.' Discovery of a double-headed penny would almost ensure that the culprit was treated to some summary justice from the soldiers; under these circumstances the wise officer looked the other way and intervened only if the prisoner's life was threatened." (Peter Charlton 1987 p258).

Paul Donnelly, curator design, history and society

Refs.
Charles Pickett, 'Gambling in Australia: thrills, spills, and social ills', Powerhouse Publishing, Sydney, 2004.
Peter Charlton, 'Two flies up a wall: the Australian passion for gambling', North Ryde, 1987 pp257-275.
Australian War Memorial website: http://www.awm.gov.au/encyclopedia/two_up/index.asp
GAMBLING (TWO-UP) ACT 1998 (As at 13 December 2007 - Act 115 of 1998):
http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/legis/nsw/consol_act/ga1998168/

 This text content licensed under CC BY-NC.

Description
Double-headed penny, possibly created for two-up games, George V design (reigned 1911-35), copper-alloy, maker unknown, Australia, minted and converted after 1911

Double-headed bronze (copper-alloy) penny composed from two separately minted pennies, pared down and the two joined as one. Obverse (front) and Reverse with crowned head of king George V and the legend: GEORGIUS V D.G.BRITT / OMN.REX.F.D.IND:IMP:
Made: Australia; 1911 - 1935
Marks
See description.
2008/213/1
Production date
1911 - 1935
Width
2 mm
Diameter
30 mm

 This text content licensed under CC BY-SA.
Acquisition credit line
Gift of Neil Radford, 2008
Subjects
+ Gambling
+ Anzac Day
+ Social issues
Short persistent URL
Concise link back to this object: http://from.ph/389320
Cite this object in Wikipedia
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{{cite web |url=http://from.ph/389320 |title=Double-headed cheating penny used in two-up gambling games, Australia |author=Powerhouse Museum |accessdate=23 November 2014 |publisher=Powerhouse Museum, Australia}}


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