Did You Know?
- Pre-Decimal Coins

Pre-Decimal Crown

Twelve pennies in a shilling and twenty shillings in a pound.... It's now over 40 years since the £ s d currency which had been used in the UK and Scotland was swept away and 240 pence to the pound were replaced by 100 new pence to the pound. Decimal Day (15 February 1971) was when the changeover took place.

You'll note that in the collection of pre-decimal coins below, there is not a pound coin, far less one for two pounds as we have today. That was because in 1971 there were paper pound notes in circulation and the pound coin was not introduced until 1983 to replace the Bank of England one pound note; the Scottish banks (who are permitted to issue banknots but not coins) continued to issue one pound notes - the Royal Bank of Scotland in particular kept them going, sometimes as special commemorative issues. See Scottish Banknotes.


The word farthing is derived from the Anglo-Saxon feorthing, or fourth part An English penny. The farthing was first minted in silver in the 13th century and then after the Union of the Scottish and English Parliaments in 1707, a British farthing, made of base metal, was minted in 1714. It continued to be used until 31 December 1960, when they ceased to be legal tender and so were no longer in use by Decimal Day in 1971.

Half Penny

This coin began its 700 year history made from silver but as the value of silver increased, the coin was made from base metals. "Halfpenny", was pronounced HAY-pe-nee. It was long considered that the first halfpenny coins were produced in the reign of King Edward I (12721307), with earlier requirements for small change being provided by "cut coinage" - pennies cut into halves or quarters. However, in recent years metal detectorists have discovered a few halfpennies of Kings Henry I (11001135) and Henry III (12161272). The halfpenny ceased to be minted in 1969 prior to decimalisation.


The "penny" originated as far back as the 8th century when a silver coin was minted (in England) which was one 240th part of a pound weight of silver. There were thus "240 pennies to a pound (of silver)". Pennies made of silver were minted until about 1750, then occasionally until about 1820; thereafter, they were only minted for Maundy money (when the British Monarch ceremonially distributes small silver coins known as "Maundy money" as symbolic alms to elderly recipients. From 1797, pennies for general circulation were minted in copper. Twelve pence made one shilling and so 240 pennies made a pound. To express an amount, penny was usually abbreviated to "d", e.g. 1d, from the Roman denarius.

The penny introduced at decimalisation (with 100 pennies to the pound) was a much smaller coin and was initially called a "new penny" to distinguish it from its predecessor. The original reverse of the new coin initially had "NEW PENNY" in the design but this changed to just "ONE PENNY" in 1982.

"Silver" Threepence
The silver three pence coin (expressed in writing as "3d") first appeared in England during the reign of King Edward VI (15471553). But it was unpopular as many preferred the four pence piece (known as a "groat") and there were times when it was not minted. During the reign of king George V (19101936) the silver content was reduced from sterling silver to a mixture of silver (50%),copper, and nickel and the design was completely changed in 1927 to three oak sprigs with three acorns and a "G" in the centre. By the end of George V's reign the threepence had become somewhat unpopular in England because of its small size, but it remained popular in Scotland. It may be that the custom of putting threepence coins (wrapped in greaseproof paper) into Christmas cakes may have contributed to its continued popularity! A nickel-brass threepence took over the bulk of the production of the denomination, being produced in all years between 1937 and 1952 except 1947. Only small numbers were produced.

Brass Threepence

A new, larger, nickel-brass (79% copper, 20% zinc, 1% nickel) twelve-sided threepence coin was introduced at the time of the short reign of King Edward VIII and took over the bulk of the production of the denomination, being produced in all years between 1937 and 1952 except 1947. Initially the design incorporated a representation of the thrift plant but in the reign of Queen Elizabeth II the design became a Tudor portcullis with chains and a coronet. Following decimalisation, the brass threepence ceased to be legal tender after 31 August 1971.


The sixpence, worth six pre-decimal pennies, was known colloquially as a "tanner". In England, the first sixpences were struck in the reign of Edward VI in 1551 and continued until they were rendered obsolete by decimalisation in 1971.The last general issue sixpence was issued in 1967 but sixpences continued to be legal tender at a value of 2 new pence until 30 June 1980. The coins were made of sterling silver until 1920, when they were reduced to 50 percent silver until 1946, after which they were changed to cupro-nickel from 1947 onwards. As the supply of silver threepence coins slowly disappeared, sixpences replaced them as the coins put into Christmas puddings. The traditional song "I've Got Sixpence" runs:

"I've got sixpence. Jolly, jolly sixpence.
I've got sixpence to last me all my life.
I've got twopence to spend and twopence to lend
And twopence to send home to my wife."


The word shilling comes from scilling, an accounting term that dates back to Anglo-Saxon times where it was deemed to be the value of a cow in Kent or a sheep elsewhere. The abbreviation for shilling is the letter "s", from the Latin solidus, the name of a Roman coin. In England, a shilling coin was used from the reign of Henry II (or Edward VI ca 1550) until the Acts of Union ended the Kingdom of England (when, in the terms of Article 16 of the Articles of Union created by the Acts of Union of 1707, a common currency for the new United Kingdom was created). Because the shilling had the king's head on it, when a man agreed "to take the King's shilling" (or the Queen's shilling as the case may be) it meant that he agreed to serve as a soldier or sailor. Following decimalisation the British shilling was superseded by the five-pence piece with a comparable value, size and weight. The pre-decimal shilling was withdrawn from circulation in 1990, when a five pence piece of reduced size was introduced.

Two Shillings (Florin)

The British two shilling coin, also known as the florin or "two bob bit" was issued from 1849 until 1967. It was worth one tenth of a pound, or twenty-four old pence. In 1847 a motion had been introduced in Parliament calling for the introduction of a decimal currency and the issue of coins of one-tenth and one-hundredth of a pound. The motion was subsequently withdrawn on the understanding that a one-tenth pound coin would be produced to test public opinion. There was considerable discussion about what the coin should be called, with centum, decade, and dime being among the suggestions. Eventually, florin was eventually settled upon, partly because of its connection with old English coinage, and partly because other European countries also had coins of approximately the same size and weight called florins.

In the reign of Queen Victoria a new design for the florin is said to have shock, including (allegedly) to Queen Victoria herself, was the omission of D G Dei Gratia ("by the grace of God") from the coin's inscription, which resulted in it being popularly known as the godless florin.

The two shilling pieces produced in the reign of Queen Elizabeth II had the reverse showing a Tudor rose in the centre surrounded by thistles, shamrocks, and leeks, symbols for Scotland, Ireland and Wales.

Half Crown

This oddity, as the name suggests, was worth half of a crown, or equivalent to two and a half shillings (30 pennies). It has a long history, having been issued (in silver) as early as 1549, in the reign of Edward VI. The half crown was demonetised (ahead of other pre-decimal coins) on 1 January 1970, the year before the United Kingdom adopted decimal currency on Decimal Day. In the reign of George VI (19371952), half crowns were 50% silver until 1946 when the metal was changed to cupro-nickel.


Although issued in England prior to the unification of Scotland and England, the British crown came into being with the Union of the Parliaments of England and Scotland in 1707. As with the English coin, its value was five shillings, which was a quarter of one pound.

During the 19th and 20th centuries the Crown declined from being a real means of exchange to being a coin rarely spent but minted for commemorative purposes only. In that format it has continued to be minted into the 21st century, even following decimalization of the British currency in 1971. However, as the result of inflation the value of such crowns has been revised upwards to five pounds. The picture here is of the crown issued in 1953 and 1960 in Queen Elizabeth II's reign.

When computers came in the scene in the late 1950s and 1960s, they had to be programmed to deal with pounds, shillings and pence. Most systems converted values to pennies for internal working and converted them back to £,s,d when printed out or displayed on a computer screen. This was before pocket calculators had come on the scene - they would have struggled with £ s d.. But gradually, a decimal currency was seen to be more efficient. Of course, there was an emotional resistance from some to the loss of the traditional monetary system.

Computer systems, banks and retailers had to prepare for the conversion well in advance of the cutover in 1971, not just for new and updated programs but also to train their staff in the new coins. As with the run-up to the Millennium, nearly 30 years later, all the hard work and preparations paid off and the changeover took place smoothly. Banks were closed from 3:30pm on Wednesday, 10 February 1971 until 10:00am on Monday 15 February, to enable all outstanding cheques and credits in the clearing system to be processed and customers' account balances to be converted to decimal.

New pennies and half penny coins were introduced but the old coins were temporarily assigned new values - the florin became 10 new pence, the shilling became 5 new pence and the old sixpenny coin filled a role as 2.5 new pence for a short while. To avoid confusion with the old currency, the term "New Pence" was brought into use with the letter "p" instead of the previous "d". Fairly rapidly, the general public dropped the word "new" and prices became what sounded like, for example "99 pee". Decimal Day itself went smoothly and after February 15, shops continued to accept payment in old coins, but always issued change in new coins.

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