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British Cartwheel Penny and Twopence

The British Cartwheel Penny and Twopence was made in 1797 and 1798 because King George III thought it was good for the people to possess a coin that was equal in value to the actual value of copper at that time. Since one (1) avoirdupois ounce of copper was worth One Penny, one and two ounce coins were minted for two years - both bearing the year 1797. The front of the coins bears the image of King George III. The reverse bears the image of Britannia seated and looking right. Both the penny (1 avoirdupois ounce , 36mm – diameter, 3mm - thickness) and two pence (2 avoirdupois ounces, 41mm – diameter, 5mm - thickness) are large in diameter and in thickness as well. The composition was entirely made of copper with no added metals to strengthen it. (Note: This was one good reason why these coins damaged so easily.) Remember, the King wanted his loyal subjects to possess a coin that had the exact value attributed to it that the weight of pure copper had at that period of time. No "scrimping"!

The coins turned out to be extremely unpopular with the general populace because of its monstrous weight and size. (The other reason this coin suffered considerable damage - it's size) It was too cumbersome to carry around a lot of large and heavy loose change in the purse or pouch for average everyday purchases. So the term “Cartwheel” was given to these coins because people complained they were as big as cartwheels. The term “Cartwheel” was later tagged for the famous Morgan Dollars that were minted in the United States from 1878-1921. The silver Morgan Dollars were popular for the most part and this terminology wasn’t used with quite the same irreverent meaning. The gold dollar was significantly smaller and easily carried in greater quantities, but sometimes a lot easier to lose.

The large British Pennies were soon replaced with a smaller version which was readily accepted. The numismatic uniqueness of the “Cartwheel” coins were not only because of its size and weight but that the coin was one of the first manufactured with new steam technology invented by James Watt. Combined with advanced collared minting presses capable of automatically minting just under 100 coins per minute made by Matthew Boulton, this large coin was a pioneer in advanced minting technology.

Millions of these coins were minted but most were later melted down, lost or buried with the deceased. It seems to have been a common practice to place a heavy coin on the deceased eyes so they would not open suddenly during the viewing and during burial. (Kind of freaks everyone out!) This coin may have been a popular one to use in that day since it was so large and heavy and of little value compared to a large silver coin.

Mr. Matthew Boulton, owner of the Soho Mint and Manufactory was quite the inventor and maintained a large, profitable and honest business in Handsworth, England. Handsworth is a town close to Birmingham, England. Mr. Boulton, originally a maker of toys, manufactured these state–of-the-art minting presses that were sold and used in many parts of the world including the United States where the manufacturing of coins was just in its infancy.These presses were used at some mints for almost a full century.

Today the Cartwheel Penny and Twopence is a popular and unusual coin to acquire for collectors. The size of these copper coins are quite the curiosity in the numismatic world. Naturally, the better the grade the higher the price for these little monsters. The extremely high grade coins usually command a significant premium. Remember, many of these coins were either melted or buried. Many of those left to roam the earth are well worn or damaged in some way over time.

It should also be noted that the more nicks, bumps (or bruises) on the edge of the coin the lower the value of these copper coins. Please reference any updated World Coin reference material or coin dealer who is an expert in British or foreign coins to determine current pricing of the Cartwheel Penny and Twopence.

Owning either one of these - or both of these - coins is truly a delight even if you normally have no interest in foreign currency unless you are British of course and this is part of your native currency.