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Origin of the Penny Nail

Posted on October 28, 2014 by RedBuilt

By Erica Iverson, E.I.T.

Q: Why is a 10d nail called a 10 “penny” nail?

A: There is little hard evidence as to where the term “penny” originated as a nail size, but it is believed to have started in medieval England as the price for 100 nails. During that time, nails were very valuable and their size was standardized. They were, in effect, a secondary form of currency. The letter “d” comes from Denarius, a Roman coin similar to a penny. The abbreviation “d” was used in the UK for penny before the conversion of currency to a decimal system. Therefore 10d nails were 10 pennies for 100 nails. Penny-weight nails is a name that stuck even after nail size became independent from nail price.

More fun nail facts:

  • From 2d to 16d, nail length increases in ¼″ increments, but after 16d the lengths increase in ½″ increments.
  • During the American Revolution, nails were difficult to acquire in the colonies since England was the main manufacturer. Some abandoned houses were intentionally burned down in order to recover nails from the ashes. Many families during that time would manufacture nails in the evening in their homes for their own use and trade. Even Thomas Jefferson wrote, “In our private pursuits it is a great advantage that every honest employment is deemed honorable. I am myself a nail maker.”

Nail (fastener). (2005, June 19). Retrieved October 27, 2014.
Norman Scott Brien Gras (1918). The Early English Customs System. Harvard University Press, Cambridge (MA). p. 701. Cited at with a quote from 1507.
"Penny". Retrieved 2010-01-10.
H. Littlehales (1905). Medieval Rec. London City Church. Cited in the Oxford English Dictionary under "Penny" with a quote from 1426-1427.
"Penny" (subscription required). Oxford English Dictionary (2nd ed.). Retrieved 2010-05-30.

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