Heads or harps?

25 Oct

When I was a child, my father when tossing a coin would call “heads or harps” rather than “heads or tails”. Up to 1823, Irish coins had the king’s head on the obverse and the (crowned) harp on the reverse, so “heads or harps” made perfect sense. Then British coins took over and the harp disappeared for a century. When the Irish Free State introduced its own coins in 1928, they had an (uncrowned) harp on the obverse, and various native animals on the reverse. So the call ought to have been “harps or tails”, but instead “heads or harps” made a comeback. I guess the animals all had heads, but then they all had tails as well.

The Dictionary of Newfoundland English records “heads or harps”, obviously imported from Ireland.

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One Response to “Heads or harps?”

  1. Stan Carey October 28, 2015 at 10:12 am #

    I had forgotten about this phrase, and it’s nice to be reminded of it. I miss Ireland’s animal coins. If the salmon had been a carp, we could say harps or carps – but heads or harps has its own charm.

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