English Silver Coins

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Types Of English Silver Coin

Silver Crown | Double Florin | Half Crown | Florins | Testoon | Shillings | Silver Sixpence | Groat | Threepence | Twopence | Silver Penny | Halfpenny | Farthing

English Silver Coins - A Brief History

Silver has been the primary metal used for coinage throughout the centuries, going back as far as ancient Greece. It was durable and a precious enough metal for a significant amount of wealth to be carried around without effort - yet not so scarce or valuable that most could not afford to own it. The ancient Persians used silver coins as far back as 612-630 BC. Some of the earliest coins were made of electrum, a naturally occurring alloy of gold and silver. [1]

The Celts were the first Britons to use coins, as far as has been ascertained, and Celtic coins in silver, in bronze and in gold have been discovered dating back to around 150 B.C. Celtic coins are known for their fascinating and diverse artistry and many of the Celtic coins feature images of horses on the reverse.

The Romans coined silver denarii of varying purity as well as gold, copper and bronze coins - and these were used in Britain as well as other countries under Roman occupation. The Roman economy was largely based on coinage. Much of the coin was minted abroad, though at some points the Romans minted coins in Britain. [2]

After the decline of Roman civilisation in Britain and the withdrawal of Roman troops (410 AD), the Anglo-Saxons made a few coins in gold and then the vast majority of their coins in silver - until the time of the Norman conquest of 1066. Until the 12th century, this was typically "fine silver" (i.e. unalloyed) and this is what people expected. King Henry II, born in 1133, King Of England from 1154-1189, introduced the use of the "Sterling Silver" standard of 92.5% silver coinage - to replace the use of fine silver.

From around 757 AD (during the reign of Offa) to around 1100, silver pennies were the only type of coin made in Britain. At this time smaller denominations were created, if required, by individuals cutting the pennies in half. In medieval times, a troy ounce of silver contained exactly 20 pennyweights and coins were designed with weight of silver in mind as this gave them their value. It was not until later that the coins were made smaller or with less pure silver.

One of the challenges of the old system was that the "hammered" coins were quite thin and had no edge markings. They were made from a disc or blank placed between two dies and struck with a hammer, which meant that people would shave a tiny amount of silver from the edge of the coin before passing it on. This "coin clipping" became so severe that in some cases a third of the coin ended up shaved away. By the 17th century, machine made coins with edge markings ("milled coinage") has replaced the hammered coinage, which was finally prohibited from circulation in January 1697. [3]

A few silver halfpennies have been found dating to the time of Henry I (1100-1135) however these are extremely rare and the halfpenny does not reappear until the time of Edward I (1272-1307). From the 13th century onwards, more denominations of coin begin to appear. A gold penny dating to 1257 has been found, the groat or fourpence dates to 1279 and the silver halfgroat or twopence dates to 1351.

Further denominations were gradually introduced to fulfil the demand for higher value coin, with the highest value silver coin being the crown - worth five shillings or sixty pence.

Apart from a few brief "departures from the straight and narrow" by monarchs (such as Henry VIII) "debasing" the coinage, all the British "silver coinage" was made using sterling silver until 1947. From then on, ordinary "silver coloured" currency coinage was made from cupro-nickel alloy, yet is still sometimes referred to colloquially as "silver".

Actual amounts of silver used in the coins varied throughout the centuries - however between the "Great Recoinage" of 1816 and the year 1920, all English / British silver coins were made from 925 silver.

Since 1947, the only British coins containing silver have been special proof / collectors' coins issued by the Royal Mint, and Maundy Money, which continues to be made in 925 silver, in keeping with the old tradition (apart from very occasional years such as 2002 when the Maundy coin is made in gold).


[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Silver_coin
[2] "Early Anglo Saxon Coins" - Gareth Williams (Shire, 2008)
[3] http://books.google.com/books?id=nNsDAAAAQAAJ&pg=PA1543

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