I’ve written before about my lucky “penny,” a 1981 Lincoln Memorial Cent I found years ago during some financially hectic moments while enrolling in college. But there’s a kind of lucky penny that many people want to know more about, and it’s neither of United States origin nor depicts “Honest Abe,” the nickname of 16th President Abraham Lincoln, who has appeared on the U.S. one-cent coin since 1909.
The lucky Irish penny is a tradition that dates back many decades, to the pre-decimal copper coinage of the Emerald Isle. Struck from 1928 through 1968, the Irish penny is a bronze coin that served a vital role in Ireland’s commerce during the heart of the 20th century before being demonetized in 1969 with the arrival of the decimal monetary system in Ireland.
The classic Irish penny has a diameter of 30.9 millimeters, making it as large as a contemporary United States half dollar. The coin was designed by Percy Metcalfe and carries on its obverse a central device of an Irish harp, which is coupled with a reverse motif of a hen and her chicks. While several dates of this coin are quite scarce, most are common and are widely collected on the PCGS Set Registry, which offers the Irish Penny Date Set, Circulation Strikes (1968-1968).
Even though the traditional bronze Irish penny was discontinued many decades ago in 1968, millions remain today, and they are quite popular with collectors and non-collectors alike. Among their plethora of merits as numismatic collectibles and historic relics of a pre-decimal Ireland, these Irish pennies have been regarded by many as “lucky.” This is little surprise, given that old pennies are routinely kept as lucky pocket pieces, like I and so many others have done with such coins. But what makes lucky Irish pennies even luckier? Why, the fact they’re Irish, of course!
Among Ireland’s many shades of green-tinged lore is its connection to “luck.” There is the lucky four-leaf clover, a small groundcover plant common in Ireland that usually carries three leaflets but rarely carries four; it’s said that a four-leaf clover will bring good luck to the person who finds it. Perhaps the phrase “luck of the Irish” stems from the many successful Irish-born or Irish American gold and silver miners who hit paydirt in American mines during the 19th century. Or perhaps there’s something about the enduring Celtic mythology that gave birth to the legend of the leprechaun and other mystical beliefs unique to the seemingly magical land of Ireland.
Whatever the case may be, lucky Irish pennies are beloved the world over and sold in many places where gifts, trinkets, and treasures from the island of Erie can be purchased. And those who feel inclined to have their Irish pennies authenticated and encapsulated for numismatic appreciation or posterity are, yes, in luck! PCGS proudly grades Irish pennies.