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1863 pennies die No under date - what the Royal Mint said

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Theories as to the precise reason why die numbers were placed on a very few pennies of 1863 have been aired on many occasions over the years, both by independent authors and on here. The favourite two being a) to test the die, and b) to identify the individual die operator. But in truth no-one knows for certain, and I hasten to add, are still very much in the dark.  

Testing the die strength/quality does sound the most plausible option to me, as we know from very well highlighted documentation made at the time, that die strength was a major issue. Although one would have thought that by 1863, many of the problems surrounding dies breaking had been resolved. Nevertheless, die cracks were still frequent at this time, as was die slippage.   

If it was to ID an individual operator, I'm not sure quite how effective that would be (or the point of it), as staff tend to either leave or move to a different area of the business. I'm sure that was just as much the case in 1863 as it is now. So clearly the initial operator assigned to say, die No 4, might have left a few weeks later, then it would be someone else. Although of course, the new man could easily have been assigned a different number. Nevertheless, we only have 4 numbers to go on, and a vanishingly small number of them. So that suggests - and I don't think there would be any dispute over this - it was a very short lived experiment. Started for no clearly defined reason, and ended again, for no reason apparent to us.

As a result of the uncertainty I decided to send an e mail to the Royal Mint enquiring as to whether or not they might know of a possible reason. I knew this was a very, very long shot, as I've absolutely no doubt the same question, or variants of it, have been sent to them on many previous occasions. Also, I knew that to get anywhere, the person dealing with my enquiry would have to extensively interrogate old records from 160 odd years ago, potentially reading a lot of pages, and I wasn't sure how much enthusiasm they'd have for that, or whether in fact they'd just rely on previous stock replies to answer my current enquiry. Obviously one's level of success will vary depending on the skill, intelligence and motivation of that person.

Nevertheless, I don't recall ever reading what the Royal Mint's view was of this, hence why I pressed ahead with my enquiry. Here is my enquiry and their reply, which I very much appreciate:-




Dear Mr 

 I am very sorry for the long delay in replying to your FOI request of 7 March which has been referred to the Museum for a response. The lockdown imposed as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic led to us being unable to access the Museum’s library and check for this information.

 The official records are frustratingly quiet with regards to die numbers on 1863 pennies, indeed the official records say very little regarding the practice as a whole. Various pieces of information have been pulled together over the subsequent years relating to die numbers and I would be happy to share some of these articles with you if that would be of interest. None of them address the question directly but they may help with additional background reference.

 Best wishes

 Chris Barker

Information and Research Manager



The Royal Mint Museum
Pontyclun CF72 8YT
United Kingdom

Tel: (0)1443 623004




Sent: 07 March 2020 09:43
To: FOI <FOI@royalmint.com>
Subject: 1863 pennies - die number under date


Essentially, I'm enquiring to see whether you actually have any knowledge in your old archived reports, or such like, as to why this was actually done,

A very few such pennies have been found bearing die numbers from 2 to 5 (no die No 1's have yet been found), and there are various theories pertaining to the possible reasons, but nothing definitive - no-one knows for sure. Which is why I'm contacting you in the hope that you might just know. 

Attached is a screenshot example, bearing die No 3 under the date.

I look forward to hearing from you. Thanks in advance


This e-mail originated from The Royal Mint Limited or one of its group entities. The information in this e-mail and any files transmitted with it are confidential and may be legally privileged. It is intended solely for the addressee. Access to this e-mail by anyone else is unauthorised. If you are not the intended recipient, any disclosure, copying, distribution or any action taken or omitted to be taken in reliance on it, is prohibited and may be unlawful.

If you have received this e-mail in error please notify the Royal Mint's IT Security Officer using the e-mail address: ITSO@royalmint.com.

The Royal Mint Limited whose registered office is at Llantrisant, Pontyclun, Mid-Glamorgan CF72 8YT, United Kingdom (registered in England and Wales No. 06964873).

 Scanned by FuseMail




So there we have it - not much. Kudos to them for replying though. I honestly thought it might be forgotten with the pandemic having caused so much disruption. So many thanks to Chris Barker. 

I did wonder whether to put this in the "More Pennies" thread, but decided to create a new thread, as it might be easier to locate on a google or site search if anyone else makes a similar enquiry. It might well help them.  





I did wonder whether to just add to the "More Pennies" thread, rather than create a new one. But thought   

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