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Penny has an Offa-lly interesting past; Carl celebrates the man who introduced the coinage system which would last for centuries.

THAT penny in your pocket may be the smallest and most insignificant coin you have - but don't just dismiss it as worthless for its historical importance is out of all proportion to its size and value. Indeed its former high standing is made plain by a clutch of phrases that emphasise the prominence of this seemingly minor unit of currency.

To declare that something 'is worth every penny' emphasises its substance; whilst to pronounce that someone ''does not have a penny to his name'' or ''does not have two pennies to rub together'' stresses that person's impoverishment.

There are many more phrases that give respect to the humble penny.

A generous person will give you their last penny, whilst a miser would not give you a penny. Something cheap is either two or ten a penny, whilst a careful person can work things out to the penny. When the penny drops then things become clear, whilst someone in a contemplative mood can be urged to share their thoughts with a penny.

A pretty penny is a lot of money; pennies from heaven bring unexpected but welcome financial benefits; by looking after the pennies you will look after the pounds and show yourself to be someone who can concentrate on saving small amounts to lead to larger sums; and in for a penny in for a pound represents wholehearted commitment to something.

The penny in your pocket is such a rich source of sayings because it has played a vital role in the lives of millions of people over a millennium and more - and the very fact that it has done so owes much to a medieval monarch who ruled the Midlands kingdom of Mercia. He was Offa of Mercia, the most formidable Anglo-Saxon king before Alfred the Great of Wessex. A victorious warlord, Offa dominated the southern half of England and was regarded as an equal by the mighty Charlemagne, King of the Franks and Emperor of the Romans.

Yet unlike Alfred, Offa has passed neither into popular memory nor folklore. Indeed if it were not for Offa's Dyke, that impressive earthwork that demarcated Mercia from the Welsh kingdom of Powys to the west, his name would have been forgotten amongst the general public.

That is a pity, for Offa was a ruler who had an acute awareness of the world around him and who engaged not only in war but also in diplomacy. Through his dealings with Charlemagne he instigated trade with Europe and brought in tutors from the continent who encouraged learning. He also introduced an effective coinage that lasted for centuries.

Following the end of Roman authority in what was then the island of Britain in the early 400s, money had mostly gone out of use. Two hundred years later, and as Anglo-Saxon kingdoms emerged in what would become England, gold coins from the Continent and later from mints in England started to circulate. These shillings were a symbol of wealth and prestige and would have been used only by the rich.

The vast majority of people would have bartered when they were buying and selling.

By the end of the seventh century, however, the gold content in shillings had fallen drastically and soon they were replaced by silver coins known as pennies. The word penny itself is derived from the Old English penig or pening, and as such is related to the German pfennig. These early pennies were thick and small at about the size of a finger nail. Most had no names inscribed on them, either of the rulers who ordered them or the moneyers who hammered them by hand into being, but their number expanded noticeably in the early eighth century.

There was, though, no standard until the reign of Offa.

His power base may have been in the Trent Valley and his royal and administrative centre at Tamworth, but his sway stretched southwards and his gaze swept across the English Channel.

This long sight made Offa acutely aware of the importance of trade between Mercia and the Frankish lands, where the coinage had been reformed recently under Pepin the Short and his more famous son, Charlemagne.

The greatest ruler in western Europe, Charlemagne was a famed leader both in war and peace. Under his leadership, the denier was established as a unit of currency. Deriving from the Latin word denarius, a silver coin, 240 of them were equal to one pound of silver - a livre. In turn this came from another Latin term, libra, signifying a Roman unit of weight.

Offa realised that the Mercian coinage needed to be improved to a specification acceptable to the Franks if there was to be successful trading between the two kingdoms. Consequently in the 760s he introduced a new form of penny.

This was thinner, broader and struck in much finer silver - and 240 of them also weighed the equivalent of a pound in silver. Crucially, these silver pennies bore the king's name on the obverse and that the moneyer on the reverse. They remained the primary unit of coinage for several hundred years and continue to influence British coin design today.

This was thinner, broader and struck in much finer silver - and 240 of them also weighed the equivalent of a pound in silver. Crucially, these silver pennies bore the king's name on the obverse and that the moneyer on the reverse. They remained the primary unit of coinage for several hundred years and continue to influence British coin design today.

In about 780, Offa and Charlemagne's relations soured - a falling out which had further effects on Mercian and later English coins. Alcuin of York was an English cleric and a leading scholar at the Frankish court and he wrote that the dissension meant that ''on both sides the passage of ships has been forbidden to merchants and is ceasing'.' Offa went further. He was determined that the Frankish denier could not be used in his lands and so went on to increase the size, weight and value of the English penny - so making the two coins incompatible. By 796, friendly relations had been resumed, and despite the differences that Offa had enforced between the Mercian penny and the Frankish denier bond also remained between the currencies. The abbreviation of denarius was D. and it became the symbol for a penny just as L., the abbreviation of libra, became the symbol for the pound.

In about 780, Offa and Charlemagne's relations soured - a falling out which had further effects on Mercian and later English coins. Alcuin of York was an English cleric and a leading scholar at the Frankish court and he wrote that the dissension meant that ''on both sides the passage of ships has been forbidden to merchants and is ceasing'.' Offa went further. He was determined that the Frankish denier could not be used in his lands and so went on to increase the size, weight and value of the English penny - so making the two coins incompatible. By 796, friendly relations had been resumed, and despite the differences that Offa had enforced between the Mercian penny and the Frankish denier bond also remained between the currencies. The abbreviation of denarius was D. and it became the symbol for a penny just as L., the abbreviation of libra, became the symbol for the pound.

As for the term shilling, it comes from the Old English word scylling and had a As for the term shilling, it comes from the Old English word scylling and had a value of four pence in Mercia and five pence in Wessex. After the Norman Conquest, William the Conqueror set the shilling at 12 pence, thus giving 20 shillings to the pound. Like the penny and the pound, the shilling also came to have a Latin symbol: in this case it was S., the abbreviation of solidus, a Roman gold coin.

L.S.D. became firmly entrenched as the currency of England - although from the 17th century, silver slowly but surely gave way to base metal in the minting of most coins. And over time new coins were also struck.

There were farthings, from the Anglo-Saxon feorthing meaning a fourth part, which were worth a quarter of a penny; halfpennies, better known as ha'pennies; silver thrupenny (threepence) bits and brass thrupenny bits; sixpences, popularly called tanners; florins, also referred to as a two-shilling bit, and recalling the city of Florence; crowns, valued at five shillings but best remembered as commemorative coins; and half crowns.

Bar for the farthing, these coins were large and weighty compared to modern coins.

Even pennies jangled expectantly and swaggeringly in your pocket and unlike the piddling modern penny they could buy things. In my childhood in the early 1960s, a penny could get you four sweets and if a visiting aunt or uncle generously handed you half a crown then you were made up because you could buy a paperback of the latest adventure of Biggles from Hudson's Bookshop in New Street, Birmingham.

The penny your pocket such a source of sayings it has vital role lives of of people millennium more By contrast the current penny, introduced with decimalisation in 1971, is about the same size as a farthing and at 100 to the pound as compared to 960 farthings it is nominally worth 9.6 times as much. However because of inflation this penny can purchase less than half of what could be bought by a farthing when it was withdrawn 51 years ago.

L.S.D. coins looked like proper money and felt like proper money. All of them had the head of the monarch on the obverse but had distinctive reverses. Befittingly for their smallness farthings sported a wren; ha'pennies crossed the ocean waves with the Golden Hind; pennies were patriotic with the figure of Britannia; thrupenny bits were castlelike '' in pocket is rich with a crowned and chained portcullis as well as a 12-sided design; sixpences were garlanded with a rose, thistle, shamrock and leek; English shillings featured three lions; florins flaunted a Tudor rose surrounded by thistles, shamrocks, and leeks; and half crowns were regal with a crowned shield.

because played a in the millions over a and Those coins and with them hundreds of years of English history and distinctiveness were doomed by the rush towards blandness and conformity that dominated post-war Britain. On February 15, 1971 Decimal Day thrust out LSD and fetched in a new era of coins. The tanner and the bob (shilling) were lost as was the half a dollar (half a crown). No more would three ha'pence be called from the market stall or nineteen and eleven be seen on sales tickets in department stores. Thankfully at least the penny was spared, and in so doing it provides an unbroken link with the origins of coinage in England and with King Offa of Mercia.

'' The penny in your pocket is such a rich source of sayings because it has played a vital role in the lives of millions of people over a millennium and more

CAPTION(S):

| Staff outside one of George Mason's grocery shops, in what seems to be the 1930s. Behind them |are two wonderfully-filled windows advertising suet, cocoa, cooked hams, GM margarine, Australian sultanas, Valencian raisins, and cocoa - as well as a pound of Gorgonzola cheese for 1/1 - one shilling and a penny, or a little over 5p.

| Scott's of Montgomery Street, Sparkbrook in the early 1900s offering |faggots, chitterlings, tripe and soup and also hot dinners daily for 4d and - less than 21/2p.

Motor Sales Ltd on the Aston Road in September 1964 offering new mopeds for 99/6 - 99 shillings |and six pence or PS4 97.5p.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Birmingham Mail (England)
Date:Aug 29, 2015
Words:1954
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