The British pre-decimal halfpenny coin (abbreviated as ½d), usually simply known as a halfpenny or half penny, was a unit of currency that equalled half of a penny or one four-hundred-and-eightieth of a pound sterling (there were 20 shillings to a pound, and 12 pence to a shilling so one pound was equal to 240 pence, so 480 of these coins made up £1).
Bronze coins of these specifications were introduced in 1860 to replace earlier larger copper halfpennies. Between 1860 and 1895, the half penny had the third Britannia design on the reverse, and Queen Victoria's "Bun Head" effigy. In 1895, the reverse was updated to the fourth Britannia design, which was a simplified version of the earlier design; it was issued until 1936.
In 1937, the Britannia type was discontinued in favour of the new halfpenny issue of King George VI. Both the new obverse and reverse were designed by Thomas Humphrey Paget. The striking reverse design shows Sir Francis Drake’s ship, the Golden Hind.
Halfpenny coins issued in 1954 remained in circulation for 15 years until 1969, when they were demonetised prior to the decimalisation of the currency.
The obverse of the coin shows the laureate young laureate bust of Queen Elizabeth II facing right - her effigy known as the "First Portrait". The laurel wreath in the Queen's hair is tied with a ribbon with two ends flowing behind.
The designer's initials, M.G. (for Mary Gillick) appear incuse on the base of the shoulder truncation, and can be seen when the coin is viewed at an angle.
The monarch's legend runs continuously all around the bust: + ELIZABETH · II · DEI · GRATIA · REGINA · F : D :. Translated from Latin: Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God, Queen, Defender of the Faith.
According to Freeman, only one obverse variety existed in 1954:
Obverse 3 has a legend which now omits the Queen's claim to rule "all the Britains". Details are in higher relief; the bust is exactly 17 mm from the top of the head to the base of the neck truncation. The cross points to the left of a border tooth, while the "I" of "GRATIA" points directly at a dot. The designer's initials are not as distinct as on Obverse 2, but more so than on Obverse 1.
The reverse of the coin depicts, within a beaded border, the full port view of a three-masted sailing ship, with bowsprit, full rigging and bellowing sails (a representation of the Golden Hind of Sir Francis Drake), upon waves the lower outline of which is curved and concentric with the edge of the coin. Above the fore- and after-masts flutter the flags of St Andrew; above the main mast is a pennant incorporating the cross of St George.
Around above, the denomination HALF PENNY; below, the date 1954.
In the field, to the right of the stern, the designer's initials HP (for [Thomas] Humphrey Paget).
Freeman distinguishes two reverses in 1954:
Reverse A is like Reverse P of King George VI, with the ship and see design 19.25 mm as before.
Reverse B has a distance of 18.8 mm from the top of the ship to the base of the sea. The border teeth are considerably longer than in Reverse A and the rim is thicker.There are faint horizontal lines on the foremast flag; waves are slightly thicker and not as clearly outlined.
||HALF PENNY 1954
Most half penny coins of 1954 have Obverse 3 and Reverse A (Freeman 466; definitions by Freeman).
For information about Freeman obverse/reverse varieties, see descriptions on the halfpenny / ship type page.
References to additional information:
[Book] Bressett, Kenneth E. 1962. A Guidebook of English Coins, Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries. Wisconsin, USA. pp29-30
[Book] Freeman, Michael J. 1970. The Bronze Coinage of Great Britain. Motherwell, Scotland, (2016 ed. pp111-112)
[Book] Remick, Jerome. 1971. The Guide Book and Catalogue to British Commonwealth Coins., pp199-200