The threepence

Threepence coin 1918
Threepence coin 1918. The silver threepence was revalued at 3 new pence in 1971.

Known as a 'Christmas pudding coin' or a 'Joey', the threepence had few admirers.

The threepence was a coin in Britain's pounds, shilling and pence currency system.

It was also known as a:

A threepence was worth three old pennies (3d). It was one-eightieth of a pound sterling.

A well-known slang word for a threepence was a 'joey'.

A threepence is worth 1¼p in Britain's decimal system, but silver threepences were revalued upwards to three new pence.

Origins of the threepence

The first threepenny piece was struck during the reign of Edward VI. It was a fine silver coin made from almost pure silver.

Since then, the threepence went in and out of fashion. There was an older alternative, the fourpenny (4d) piece or groat. The first groats were struck in the reign of Edward I (1272-1307). At the time, it was the highest denomination British coin.

From the time of the English Civil War, English mints struck threepences for most monarchs. They were sometimes only used for Maundy Money. (The coins distributed by the Monarch to specially chosen elderly people on Maundy Thursday, the day before Good Friday).

Silver threepence piece, 1940
The last design of the silver threepence piece, 1940. The silver threepence was minted alongside the new brass threepence to satisfy demand mostly in Scotland for the silver coin. It is strange that the design featured such strong English symbolism - the Cross of St George in front of a Tudor rose.

The groat was re-introduced in the reign of William IV. It was a silver coin with Britannia on the reverse (tails) side. The threepence was little used in his reign.

The threepence finally ousted the groat in the reign of Queen Victoria. From 1845 the threepence was minted for general circulation in the UK. The last groat was minted in 1856.

Until 1937 the threepence remained a silver coin. It was the smallest British silver coin.

In England it was not well-liked because of its small size. In London they hardly existed. Whether people refused them, as they did with farthings in the 1950s, or whether they hoarded them is not clear. In Scotland and Wales, the threepenny bit was popular.

One theory pandered to the stereotype of the thrifty Scot. According to a reader of the Spectator, Scots were more religious than the average Brit. The church collection plate was also taken seriously. In some churches, a 'silver collection' was held. The smallest silver coin would do, so the careful Scotsman kept a large stock of threepenny bits. [1]

The threepenny bit was indeed a favourite collection plate coin, for the English, as well as for the Scots.

In 1920, the Rev G C Fletcher, Vicar of St Peter's Church, Blackburn, Lancashire asked his parishioners to remember that the value of a threepenny bit was little more than three halfpence had been before the War (1914-18 War). If they had been used to leaving a silver threepence in the collection plate, it should now be a silver sixpence. [2]

The Rev Fletcher was right. Money sank in value between 1914 and 1920 by 73%. Threepence in 1920 would have been closer in value to two halfpennies and one farthing in 1914.

Brass threepence

Brass threepence piece, 1944
Brass threepence piece, 1944. This was the second version of the thrift plant design simplified from the original design by Madge Kitchener.

Reacting to popular opinion, the Royal Mint introduced a new twelve-sided nickel-brass threepence in 1937. The alloy was 79% copper, 20% zinc and 1% nickel. Brass is an alloy of copper and zinc.

The design was a very unusual coin for the time. It was chosen so it could not be mistaken for other coins. The new threepence was also thicker than other coins to stop from people inserting them into vending machines which expected shillings or sixpences. [3]

The Mint produced 20,000,000 of the new threepence pieces for distribution in areas where the silver coins were little used.

As the silver threepence was still 'in accustomed use' in some regions, mostly Scotland, both coins were minted for a period.[3]

The new version of the silver threepence had carried a design by artist, George Kruger Gray. It was a shield bearing the cross of Saint George in front of a Tudor Rose. These typically English symbols were odd for a coin most likely to be used in Scotland. It replaced another of Gray's designs, oak twigs and acorns, also with strong English symbolism.

The original design for the nickel-brass threepence was by artist Frances Kitchener, known as Madge Kitchener. She was the niece of the famous military leader Lord Kitchener. Kitchener's design was used for a small number of threepenny bits minted with the head of Edward VIII on the obverse ('heads') side. It was simplified by the Mint for the final version of the coin.

The design was of a thrift plant. It was meant to represent the virtue of saving.

A few of the original Edward VIII threepences escaped into general circulation. They were the rarest coin you could find in your change for a few years. [4]

After initial resistance from the public, the new coins were well-received.

Cinema operators also liked the new coin. Prices for various seats: stalls, circle, balcony etc were in multiples of 3d. So they could avoid giving bronze coins in change to customers buying tickets. [5]

The brass threepence continued into the reign of Elizabeth II.

Royal Mint employee, William Gardner, designed a new-look brass threepence for the new reign. He replaced the thrift plant with a portcullis. Gardner worked for the Royal Mint over a long period and was responsible for the design of several coins, including the decimal twenty-pence coin.


The last threepence was minted for general circulation in 1967. The threepence had no place in the decimal system. It was withdrawn from circulation on 1 September 1971.

The closest decimal coin in value to the threepence was the new decimal penny. In size, the closest decimal coin was the new halfpenny.

A strange quirk is that older silver threepences were like the Maundy silver threepenny piece. The design used until 1928 was a number '3' under a crown. Maundy threepence pieces have the same design. Because of this, the silver threepence was re-valued to three new pence. It was the only coin to be revalued on decimalisation. The brass threepence was not revalued.

The very last threepence

Proof brass threepence piece, 1970
The last brass threepence minted. It was in a special presentation pack for 1970.

The Royal Mint issued a 1970 proof set of the last 'old money' coins. The set contained a 'brass' threepence dated 1970.

The threepence in popular culture

There was a tradition of putting a silver threepence in a Christmas pudding for a lucky child to find. This later became a silver sixpence when silver threepences became rare in the 1950s.

Threepence - key dates

How much was a threepenny bit worth?

When Britain went decimal in 1971, a threepenny bit had the same value as 14p today. In 1937, when the brass coins were introduced, they would have represented 70p in today's money.


[1] 'Threepenny bits in Scotland' published as a letter to the Spectator, 12 September 1940

[2] 'Churchgoer's threepenny bits' published in the Guardian, 1 January 1920

[3] 'New threepenny pieces' published in The Times on 27 July 1937, page 11.

[4] 'The Guinness Book of Records' published in 1955 by Guinness Superlatives, page 65

[5] 'Big Threepenny Bit is Very Popular' published in the Daily Mirror 16 December 1939, page 7

By Steven Braggs, November 2022

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Retrowow - vintage, retro and social history

Mid Century ★ Facts & Figures ★ Collectibles

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★ Mid Century ★ Facts & Figures ★ Collectibles ★