Old Money Explained

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11 February 2021
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Remember pounds, shillings and pence? In this special guide to old money, used before the UK went decimal in 1971, we take a look at coins including the farthing, florin and sixpence. By Paula Hammond

What is old money?

Remember pounds, shillings and pence? For centuries the United Kingdom used this system for its currency, and it was only in 1971 that the UK government followed the example of many other countries and went decimal.

Today the phrase 'old money' has become a general term for an erstwhile unit of measurement, such as pounds for weight and inches for measurement.

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Farthing (1/4d)

  • Meaning the fourth part
  • Rare Medieval examples resemble tiny long-cross pennies
  • Silver c.1222-1553. Replaced by tin (initially1684-5), copper, then 22-20mm bronze (1860-1958)
  • Britannia and Wren reverses considered iconic
  • Collector prices: £7,000 (1860), £40 (1853), £8 (1920)

Halfpenny (1/2d)

  • Often pronounced as a ‘haypenee’
  • 1216/1247 silver halfpennies are known. Coins in general circulation during the reign of Edward I, resembling small long-cross pennies. Civil War examples measure just 9-10mm in diameter
  • Copper from 1672, tin (1685-1692), then bronze from 1860
  • Britannia and Golden Hind (1937) are admired reverses
  • Collector prices: £7,000 (1860), £40 (1799), £10 (1917)

Threepence (3d)

  • A ‘thruppenny bit’
  • Appeared in 1551. Intermittent production until 1845
  • 1817-1945 silver threepences measured 16mm in diameter, featuring a crowned number three reverse.
  • 1937’s 12-sided brass coins featured a bold portcullis reverse
  • Collector prices: £800 (1691 first bust), £50 (1864), £11 (1911)

Sixpence (6d)

  • A ‘tanner’
  • 100% silver (1551-1816), 92.5% silver (1816-1920), 50% silver (1920-1946), then cupronickel. Standardised at 19.41mm diameter after 1816
  • Earliest examples feature the royal coat-of-arms with a long cross fourchée reverse. Popular oak sprigs and acorns design, 1928-1936
  • Collector prices: £4,000 (1728), £40 (1816), £10 (1914)

 


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Shilling (s)

  • Known as a ‘bob’
  • Testoons began to be called shillings during the reign of Edward VI. 1548 shillings are amongst the earliest dated British coins
  • Silver changed to cupronickel in 1947, although a 1947 silver shilling is known
  • Variations on the royal coat-of-arms were the dominant reverse but hundreds of designs exist
  • Collector prices: £9,000 (1677 plume below bust), £15 (1887), £9 (1936)

Florin (2s)

  • Two-shillings
  • Worth a tenth of a pound— the product of Britain’s 1849 dabble with decimalisation
  • 92.5% silver (1849-1919), 50% silver (1920-1946), then cupronickel from 1947. Between 28-28.5mm in diameter
  • Noted reverse features Britannia – robes flowing – on the bow of a ship (1902/1910)
  • Collector prices: £3500 (1863), £30 (1887 jubilee head), £7 (1937)

Half Crown (2s 6d)

  • Two-and-six
  • Gold (1526), 100% silver (1551), 92.5% silver (1816-1919), 50% silver (1920-1946), then cupronickel. From 1816, coins measured 32mm in diameter
  • Variants of the royal coat-of-arms dominate reverses
  • Collector prices: £4,000 (1841), £30 (1887 jubilee head), £9 (1937)

Crown (5s)

  • Five shillings
  • Earliest examples are Henry VIII’s beautiful gold double-rose crown. Replaced by a heavy silver coin after 1707
  • Silver content was reduced in 1816, then again in 1920. Cupronickel after 1947
  • Queen Victoria's 1847 Gothic crown is considered to be the most beautiful British coin ever
  • Collector prices: £25,000 (1697), £30 (1935), £3 (1953)

Note: Prices quoted are for EF coins and show: top-end values, earliest example under £50, earliest example under £10. All collector prices are estimates based on recent transactions. The author can not be held responsible for actual prices of coins bought and sold on the open market.
 


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