Threepenny Bit = Thrifty Childhood

I used to detect on a piece of land that had served the local village as
a venue for fairs, church events and car boot sales. Although the finds were not overtly spectacular, they were often interesting and worthy of comment. Amongst the pipe tampers, barrel tap keys and such-like, I found many different kinds of English money. Such a coin find evoked memories of my early days living in a Durham pit village – and it was dated for the year in which I was born! Here’s the coin:

© JW – Threepenny Bit showing my birthdate.

At the time it was introduced – in 1937 – it was a radically new design having twelve sides, struck in nickel-brass, and planned for the new coinage of Edward VII, who abdicated, having been uncrowned king for most of 1936.

This was a time when we still spent pounds and pence (not pee) in the shops. Mobiles were things attached to ceilings, twittering was something done by birds and Neil Armstrong had yet to step on the lunar surface. In the middle of all this was the beautiful coin and one of my all-time favourites – the ‘thruppenny bit’. 

The design on the reverse of this coin is a hardy tufted Thrift plant, a flower able to survive on coastal cliffs, mountains and salt marshes as it is wind, drought and salt-tolerant, thus able to survive on rather poor soil.

Armenia maritima the perky pink wild flower commonly known as thrift, sea thrift or sea pink

That’s why I’m reminded of another kind of thrift – perhaps the design on the reverse of the coin was introduced to encourage economy in difficult times. Nothing was wasted in our home. Mother never threw away food. Father repaired shoes, made toys. We existed on very little, made do and mend, but I remember my (frugal?) childhood with affection.

With the accession on Queen Elizabeth, the reverse design was changed to a portcullis. The coin was eventually withdrawn in 1971, six months after the introduction of decimal coinage – which did not have a denomination of three pence. I find it ironic that the portcullis, the symbol for the Palace of Westminster, is now firmly associated with excess, greed and waste. Time for a different design on our decimal pennies for which it was adopted, methinks! I might even suggest the hardy sea pink (thrift). What do you reckon?

The portcullis still appears on the UK penny.


The crowned portcullis is the official emblem or logo of the UK Parliament. It is an image of a grilled gate of the type found on medieval castles with a crown on top. The portcullis symbol is used to identify official parliamentary publications and correspondence from MPs and members of the House of Lords.

4 thoughts on “Threepenny Bit = Thrifty Childhood”

  1. I can remember that coin John..When I was a lad, my father gave me a couple of those.. I suspect that he acquired them when he was in England during the war..And like the young lad I was, over the years, I lost them.. My father never said anything, but I would think he might have been disappointed.

    Because like you and your family, we too were a frugal lot..My mother sewed our clothing, and repaired that which she could. What could not be mended was used as rags or for patches.. I do not ever remember going to be hungry [we did preserves, had our own garden and hunted/fished]..And even though I may not have received everything I might have wanted as a youth, I definitely had everything I needed

    Micheal

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  2. I wondered what the chains did on the portcullis. It seems they went through a loop at the top of the grill and were used for raising the drawbridge.
    Not something we see much of here in Australia

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  3. A great coin i remember from my childhood and youth .. A friends mum use to call them Joeys and as for rhyming slang we used to say a girl had a nice pair of threepenny bits … My dad used to be a bit thrifty he use to make us sit round a candle and if it got really cold he used to light it …….. Gary

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