British Silver Coins 1662-1946
Until it was superseded in 1971
by a decimal pound of 100 pence, the traditional pound sterling was valued at
240 pence. This awkward figure
resulted in numerous and peculiar divisions arrived at over many generations.
The basic silver coin of England was the 12-pence piece or shilling, of
which 20 were equal to a pound. Other
fractional silver coins included the sixpence, the fourpence or groat, the
threepence, the twopence and the penny. Being
intended primarily for the Royal Maundy service at Easter, the silver penny,
twopence and fourpence were rarely coined for circulation.
Multiples of the shilling included the silver two shillings or florin,
the 30-pence piece or halfcrown, the four-shilling piece or double florin,
coined only briefly during the reign of Victoria (1837-1901), and the
dollar-sized crown of five shillings. At
one time or another, all of these coins were a part of the ďmilled,Ē or
machine-made coinage which became the standard after 1662.
The death of Oliver Cromwell in
1658 and the downfall of his Parliamentary Commonwealth led to the restoration
of the Stuart Monarchy in the person of King Charles II.
Ascending the throne in 1660, his reign lasted until 1685 and coincided
with the complete adoption of milled coinage, though a number of hand-struck,
hammered pieces were produced during its first two years. The first issue of
milled silver coins consisted of crowns dated 1662 and half crowns and
shillings dated 1663. The penny,
twopence, threepence and fourpence were initially coined without dates.
These were dated from 1670 onward, though twopence pieces bearing the
date 1668 are also known. The
sixpence came last in 1674. All
of these denominations were produced extensively, with only a few gaps in
The short and ill-fated reign of
James II (1685-88) saw the same denominations coined, though there are a few
gaps in the date sequence. As
with the coinage of Charles II, the reverse of each coin from sixpence through
crown features the heraldic shields of England, Scotland, Ireland and France.
The lesser pieces, unlike those of Charles which featured interlocking
letters C, are dominated by their value in Roman numerals topped with a crown.
The Bloodless Revolution of 1688
brought William of Orange to the throne in joint rule with his wife Mary,
eldest daughter of James II, a partnership
which lasted until her premature death of smallpox in 1694.
Both monarchs appear on the silver coinage, their busts overlapping.
All of the denominations issued during the previous two reigns were
continued, though again coinage was not complete for each year.
William III continued to rule
alone until he too succumbed from pneumonia
in 1702 following a fall from his horse. The coins bearing his portrait
are collected as a separate series altogether, though the reverse types
are generally similar to previous issues for both reigns.
For the lesser silver pieces, penny through fourpence, modern numerals
have been substituted for the Roman ones of James II.
With no direct heir, succession
of the throne went to Anne (1702-14), younger daughter of James II and Anne
Hyde. Her reign witnessed the
unification of England and Scotland as the United Kingdom in 1707, and this
change of status is reflected in her coinage.
The same silver denominations were again issued with very similar
devices. Though their coinage was
sporadic and incomplete, numerous varieties resulted. The scepters found on the reverses of earlier issues were
omitted and the star of the Garter added at center.
Anne, too, expired without an
heir. The prospect of civil war
loomed, as Stuart proponents sought to make Prince James Francis Edward the
new king. By the 1701 Act of
Settlement, however, the English throne was to pass to the reigning Prince
Elector of Hanover in Germany, a purely political arrangement with little
popular support. As a result, the
new ruler of Great Britain was George I (1714-27), who showed little interest
in this foreign country. His
silver coinage continued the same denominations, but only the shilling was
produced with much regularity. The
reverse types are very similar to previous reigns, though the arms of the
Duchy of Brunswick and Luneberg and the kingís German titles are included.
The reign of his son and
successor, George II (1727-60), resulted in only spasmodic coinage of silver,
though at one time or another all of the current silver values were issued.
These included crown, halfcrown, shilling, sixpence, fourpence,
threepence, twopence and penny. The
reverse types and legends were quite similar to those of George I.
Easily the most famous of the
Hanoverian kings of Great Britain was George III (1760-1820).
This long reign witnessed his descent into madness and Britainís
first great territorial loss, the 13 American colonies.
The grandson of George II, he was the first of the Hanoverians to be
born in Britain, and he thought of himself as English.
During the early years of his reign, very little silver was coined, as
this metal was undervalued and didnít circulate.
Aside from the four Maundy coins, only shillings and sixpence were
struck, and these nearly all in 1787 alone.
A semi-official, token coinage in silver was produced for the Bank of
England from 1804 to 1816, and this resulted in some very peculiar
denominations. The only
substantial coinage of silver during this reign consisted of crowns,
halfcrowns, shillings, sixpence and Maundy coins produced at a new lower
weight from 1816 to 1820. A new
reverse was used which featured the national arms, surrounded by the Garter
and surmounted by a crown. The
five-shillings or crown piece portrayed St. George slaying a dragon.
George IV succeeded his father
officially in 1820, though because of the Kingís insanity, he had served as
regent since 1811. His coinage
included all of the usual denominations, though there were sequential gaps.
While the larger silver coins featured the arms with or without Garter,
the shilling portrayed a lion passant atop a crown.
The four Maundy coins continued with a crowned numeral.
Georgeís brother succeeded him
in 1830 and ruled as William IV (1830-37).
His coinage was similarly sporadic, the crown and halfcrown bearing on
their reverses a shield on mantle design.
The shilling and sixpence each featured their value spelled out within
a crowned wreath. In addition to
the usual Maundy coinage, a circulating fourpence was coined briefly with a
seated Britannia reverse. Circulating
coins valued at threepence and 1-1/2 pence were issued for colonial use only.
The reign of Victoria
(1837-1901), niece of William IV, was long enough to prompt four portraits
showing her as the young Queen of 18, as a Teutonic princess, again on her
golden jubilee, and finally as the elderly widow. The reverse types are too varied to describe in full, though
they borrowed heavily from their predecessors.
Those used with the Old Head coinage after 1893 were more distinctive.
Aside from the traditional denominations, new coins included the
two-shilling piece, or florin, and the four-shilling coin or double florin.
Edward VII (1901-10) succeeded
his mother when he was already quite advanced in years.
His short reign was marked by fairly steady coinage of all silver
pieces save for the crown, which was issued only in 1902 as a commemorative.
This practice largely continues to the present day.
The florin is the only distinctive coin, with its standing figure of
The second son of Edward VII,
George V (1910-36) was an enormously popular ruler whose 25th anniversary on
the throne was celebrated with a crown in 1935. Crowns of the regular type were issued 1927-34 and again in
1936. All other silver coins were
minted quite steadily, as well. Their
designs borrowed heavily from earlier types until 1927, when all were updated.
Economic conditions led to abandonment of the .925 silver standard,
which was reduced to .500 fine in 1920.
The brief reign of Georgeís
eldest son, the reluctant Edward VIII (1936), produced no coins for domestic
circulation. He was quickly
succeeded by his startled brother, who nevertheless served with much acclaim
as George VI (1936-52). His
coinage was quite regular, and it introduced modern designs that represented a
radical departure from previous reigns. Included
were both English and Scottish versions of the shilling, a tribute to his
Queen-consortís ancestry. Britainís
enormous wartime debt to the United States of America prompted the abandonment
of silver for circulating coinage after 1946, though it has since been
utilized periodically for commemorative pieces.
These are sold at a premium to coin collectors.
From the NGC Photo Proof Series. Copyright © 2001 The Numismatic Guaranty Corporation. All rights reserved.