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A penny is a coin (pl. pennies) or a unit of currency (pl. pence) in various countries. Borrowed from the Carolingian denarius (hence its former abbreviation d.), it is usually the smallest denomination within a currency system. Presently, it is the formal name of the British penny (abbr. p) and the informal name of the American one cent coin (abbr. ¢) as well as the informal Irish designation of the 1 cent euro coin (abbr. c). It is the informal name of the cent unit of account in Canada, although one cent coins are no longer minted there.[1] The name is also used in reference to various historical currencies also derived from the Carolingian system, such as the French denier and the German pfennig. It may also be informally used to refer to any similar smallest-denomination coin, such as the euro cent or Chinese fen.

The Carolingian penny was originally a 0.940-fine silver coin weighing ​1240 pound. It was adopted by Offa of Mercia and other English kings and remained the principal currency in Europe over the next few centuries until repeated debasements necessitated the development of more valuable coins. The British penny remained a silver coin until the expense of the Napoleonic Wars prompted the use of base metals in 1797. Despite the decimalization of currencies in the United States and, later, throughout the British Commonwealth, the name remains in informal use.

No penny is currently formally subdivided, although farthings (¼d), halfpennies, and half cents have previously been minted and the mill (1/10¢) remains in use as a unit of account in some contexts.

Etymology

1930 Australian penny
Coin of Eric Bloodaxe
A silver copy of the 1930 Australian penny (top), coin of Eric Bloodaxe (bottom), with legend reading Eric Rex ("King Eric")

Penny is first attested in a 1394 Scots text,[n 1] a variant of Old English peni, a development of numerous variations including pennig, penning, and pending.[n 2] The etymology of the term "penny" is uncertain, although cognates are common across almost all Germanic languages[n 3] and suggest a base *pan-, *pann-, or *pand- with the individualizing suffix -ing. Common suggestions include that it was originally *panding as a Low Franconian form of Old High German pfant "pawn" (in the sense of a pledge or debt, as in a pawnbroker putting up collateral as a pledge for repayment of loans); *panning as a form of the West Germanic word for "frying pan", presumably owing to its shape; and *ponding as a very early borrowing of Latin pondus ("pound").[3] Recently, it has been proposed that it may represent an early borrowing of Punic pn (Pane or Pene, "Face"), as the face of Carthaginian goddess Tanit was represented on nearly all Carthaginian currency.[4] Following decimalization, the British and Irish coins were marked "new penny" until 1982 and 1985, respectively.

From the 16th century, the regular plural pennies fell out of use in England when referring to a sum of money (e.g. "That costs tenpence."), but continued to be used to refer to more than one penny coin ("Here you are, a sixpence and four pennies."). It remains common in Scottish English and is standard for all senses in American English,[3] where, however, the informal "penny" is typically only used of the coins in any case, values being expressed in "cents".[5] The informal name for the American cent seems to have spread from New York State.[6]

In British English, prior to decimalization, values from two to eleven pence and to a lesser extent 18 pence, were often written and spoken as a single word, as twopence or tuppence, threepence or thruppence, etc. (Other values were usually expressed in terms of shillings and pence or written as two words, which might or might not be hyphenated.) Where a single coin represented a number of pence, it was treated as a single noun, as a sixpence. Thus, "a threepence" (but more usually "a threepenny bit") would be single coin of that value whereas "three pence" would be its value and "three pennies" would be three penny coins. In British English, divisions of a penny were added to such combinations without a conjunction, as sixpence-farthing, and such constructions were also treated as single nouns. Adjectival use of such coins used the ending -penny, as sixpenny.[3]

The British abbreviation d. derived from the Latin Carolingian penny was originally a 0.940-fine silver coin weighing ​1240 pound. It was adopted by Offa of Mercia and other English kings and remained the principal currency in Europe over the next few centuries until repeated debasements necessitated the development of more valuable coins. The British penny remained a silver coin until the expense of the Napoleonic Wars prompted the use of base metals in 1797. Despite the decimalization of currencies in the United States and, later, throughout the British Commonwealth, the name remains in informal use.

No penny is currently formally subdivided, although farthings (¼d), halfpennies, and half cents have previously been minted and the mill (1/10¢) remains in use as a unit of account in some contexts.

Penny is first attested in a 1394 Scots text,[n 1] a variant of Old English peni, a development of numerous variations including pennig, penning, and pending.[n 2] The etymology of the term "penny" is uncertain, although cognates are common across almost all Germanic languages[n 3] and suggest a base *pan-, *pann-, or *pand- with the individualizing suffix -ing. Common suggestions include that it was originally *panding as a Low Franconian form of Old High German pfant "pawn" (in the sense of a pledge or debt, as in a pawnbroker putting up collateral as a pledge for repayment of loans); *panning as a form of the West Germanic word for "frying pan", presumably owing to its shape; and *ponding as a very early borrowing of Latin pondus ("pound").[3] Recently, it has been proposed that it may represent an early borrowing of Punic pn (Pane or Pene, "Face"), as the face of Carthaginian goddess Tanit was represented on nearly all Carthaginian currency.[4] Following decimalization, the British and Irish coins were marked "new penny" until 1982 and 1985, respectively.

From the 16th century, the regular plural pennies fell out of use in England when referring to a sum of money (e.g. "That costs tenpence."), but continued to be used to refer to more than one penny coin ("Here you are, a sixpence and four pennies."). It remains common in Scottish English and is standard for all senses in American English,[3] where, however, the informal "penny" is typically only used of the coins in any case, values being expressed in "cents".[5] The informal name for the American cent seems to have spread from New York State.[6]

In British English, prior to decimalization, values from two to eleven pence and to a lesser extent 18 pence, were often written and spoken as a single word, as twopence or tuppence, threepence or thruppence, etc. (Other values were usually expressed in terms of shillings and pence or written as two words, which might or might not be hyphenated.) Where a single coin represented a number of pence, it was treated as a single noun, as a sixpence. Thus, "a threepence" (but more usually "a threepenny bit") would be single coin of that value whereas "three pence" would be its value and "three pennies" would be three penny coins. In British English, divisions of a penny were added to such combinations without a conjunction, as sixpence-farthing, and such constructions were also treated as single nouns. Adjectival use of such coins used the ending -penny, as sixpenny.[3]

The British abbreviation d. derived from the Latin denarius. It followed the amount, e.g. "11d". It has been replaced since decimalization by p, usually written without a space or period. From this abbreviation, it is common to speak of pennies and values in pence as "p".[3] In North America, it is common to abbreviate cents with the currency symbol ¢. Elsewhere, it is usually written with a simple c.

History

Antiquity

The medieval silver penny was modeled on similar coins in antiquity, such as the Greek drachma, the Carthaginian shekel, and the Roman denarius. Forms of these seem to have reached as far as Norway and Sweden.[citation needed] The use of Roman currency in Britain seems to have fallen off after the Roman withdrawal and subsequent Saxon invasions.

Frankish Empire

Charlemagne's father Pepin the Short instituted a major currency reform around AD 755,

Charlemagne's father Pepin the Short instituted a major currency reform around AD 755,[7] aiming to reorganise Francia's previous silver standard with a standardized .940-fine denier (Latin: denarius) weighing 1240 pound.[8] (As the Carolingian pound seems to have been about 489.5 grams,[9][10] each penny weighted about 2 grams.) Around 790, Charlemagne introduced a new .950 or .960-fine penny with a smaller diameter. Surviving specimens have an average weight of 1.70 grams, although some estimate the original ideal[clarification needed] mass at 1.76 grams.[11][12][13] But despite the purity and quality of these pennies, they were often rejected by traders throughout the Carolingian period in favor of the gold coins used elsewhere; this led to repeated legislation against such refusal to accept the king's currency.[14]

England