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Long Cross Pennies

Small Change

With the single exception of a rare gold coin valued at twenty silver pence, the long cross coinage consists of a single denomination, the silver penny. Although small quantities of halfpennies had occasionally been struck since Saxon times, and a very small number of round halfpennies and farthings were minted towards the end of the short cross issue, the disproportionate cost of producing such small coins seems to have deterred the authorities from making any real effort.

The need for small change was nevertheless extremely acute. A penny, which represented approximately a day’s pay for a skilled labourer, would buy two dozen eggs, two large loaves of bread or at least two gallons of ale. The solution, also adopted from the earliest times, was to cut the penny into halves and quarters. In fact, the voided cross design employed on the reverses of both the short cross and long cross coins was chosen to facilitate this measure.

It is apparent from the large numbers of cut coins found by metal detectorists that the cutting was performed both by mint staff and members of the public. The majority of cut coins have cleanly cut edges, which appear to have been made with an accurately positioned and sharp tool. A minority of them, however, show evidence of less skilled performance. Telltale signs include misaligned and multiple attempts at cutting, and irregular edges resulting from breaking the coin by repeated reverse bending. Such action would have been an obvious remedy whenever ‘official’ small change was not to hand.

Cut halfpenny and farthing

Cut coins of all classes are found, and it is often possible to determine the class, and sometimes the mint and/or moneyer from the surviving part of the coin.