The British threepence (3d) coin, usually simply known as a threepence or threepenny bit, was a unit of currency equalling one eightieth of a pound sterling, or three pence sterling. Threepence coins had been issued for a long time as "Maundy" money (non circulating legal tender, distributed in very small amounts by the King or Queen in person), then for regular circulation in Britain since 1845 (earlier circulation pieces were for colonial use only).
By the end of King George V’s reign the threepence had become unpopular in England because of its small size. Although it was still popular in Scotland, the government of the day decided to introduce a more substantial coin which would have a more convenient weight/value ratio than the silver coinage. King Edward VIII expressed his wishes that his coinage would be modern, with new and exciting designs; he hinted at his admiration of the Art Deco style but he also fully understood the conservative nature of the Royal Mint and its traditions. The Royal Mint set about designing the new coins, testing the minting process and, in particular, checking for flaws in the metal flow. A nickel-brass (79% copper, 20% zinc, 1% nickel) twelve-sided threepence coin was introduced, in parallel with the existing silver version which continued to be issued until 1945.
Owing to the early abdication of King Edward VIII, none of the patterns made during his short reign was ever released into circulation. These include both silver and brass versions. Maundy coinage for King Edward VIII was not minted either.
The reverse design for the brass piece was adapted by Percy Metcalfe after sketches originally submitted in June 1936 by Miss Frances Madge Kitchener, niece of military hero Lord Kitchener; these were originally intended for use in transport, as bus fare for example. Miss Kitchener's conception for the coin, introduced as a type in this pattern, was for a sideways-appearing trio of thrift, or thistle plant, flowers atop curling tendrils. The idea for the reverse motif surely had been borrowed from the 1928 Irish Free State coinages which introduced the use of native flora and fauna for reverse designs in place of the traditional royal insignia, and in subsequent commercial versions the coin proved popular, useful and durable. Two models of this were prepared in 1936 but abandoned as overly ornate, in favour of a less realistic or more deco-styled image of the plant, but showing fuller flowers, which was finally adopted for the brass coinage of King George VI later in 1937.
The nickel brass trial pieces were minted in various thickness: 1.75 mm; 2.0 mm; 2.5 mm. As some of the thinner patterns could activate existing relatively primitive slot machines instead of a sixpence or shilling, the thickest dimension was eventually decided upon. Only 12 examples were made with the effigy of King Edward VIII. The whereabouts of six of these are unknown.
Bareheaded effigy of King Edward VIII facing left; below the truncation of the neck, the designer's initials HP (for [Thomas] Humphrey Paget).
Around, the monarch's legend EDWARDVS VIII D : G : BR : OMN : REX F : D : IND : IMP.; translated from Latin, Edward the Eighth, by the Grace of God, King of all the Britains, Defender of the Faith, Emperor of India.