Currencies: Out for ha'penny, out for a pound

Even before the Norman conquest in 1066, Saxon tribes in England cut their silver pennies into two. The halfpenny (pronounced hay-penny) was first minted in 1279. It went on to become a symbol of penuriousness. In Shakespeare's Love's Labour's Lost, Costard insults an acquaintance for his "halfpenny purse of wit." Now, because of inflation, the tiny (approximately ⅝in.) coin costs more to make than its value of 6¢. Last week the Chancellor of the Exchequer said that the halfpenny will not be recognized as legal tender after this year.

Extinction also awaits the pound note (current worth: $1.25). First issued in...

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