Did You Know?
While there is no longer a coin called a bawbee in circulation in Scotland, the picturesque word has become so well used and identified with Scotland, it is still used by many people who do not know its origins.
The word probably derived from the title of Alexander Orrok of Sillebawby, a 16th-century head of the Scottish Mint, known as the Master Moneyer. It was originally a coin worth six Scots pennies, but as the value of Scots currency became less, relative to English coinage, the name was later given to a halfpenny (when there were 240 pennies to the pound). While it was not the smallest value coin in the realm (the farthing or quarter penny had that distinction) its lowly status meant that it was (and is) used to describe something of low value as "not worth a bawbee".
The first silver pennies were minted by King David I in the first half of the 12th century, although coins had been used earlier than this (in Roman times - see the coins above) and also by the Vikings. King David had spent a considerable time in England before he came to the throne, so when he captured an English Royal Mint in Carlisle he put it to work creating Scottish coins instead.
While early coins had precious metal (such as silver) to the face value of the coins, fluctuating values of metal and debasement of the currency by governments and kings soon resulted in that principle being lost. This process happened faster in Scotland than England until by the 16th century one English penny was reckoned to be worth 12 pence Scots.
The bawbee, probably Scotland's best- known coin, was first issued in 1539 and continued to be struck until 1697, but it died finally with the Union of the Parliaments in 1707. But the word carried on, referring instead to the bronze half penny (see illustration at the top of the page). This was first issued in 1672 in England and was the nearest equivalent to the Scottish sixpence when the Act of Union swept away Scottish coinage. Although a "half new pence" appeared after the decimalisation of the UK currency in 1971, even that coin has now disappeared from circulation.
Despite the demise of a separate Scottish coinage, bank notes issued by Scottish commercial banks continue to be the main currency in circulation in Scotland - see the separate "Did you Know" on Money in Scotland>.
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