Shilling (British coin)

Shilling (British coin)

In the United Kingdom, a shilling was a coin used from the reign of Henry VII until decimalisation in 1971. Before decimalisation there were twenty shillings to the pound and twelve pence to the shilling, and thus 240 pence to the pound.

At decimalisation the shilling was superseded by the new five pence piece, which initially was of identical size and weight and had the same value. The word "shilling" comes from "schilling", 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 Testoon

During the reign of Henry VII the forerunner of the shilling, the testoon, was introduced. This coin was only produced in extremely small quantities, probably around 1489, and the fact that there are only 3 known dies for this issue (and 3 subsequent legend varieties, (HENRIC, HENRIC VII and HENRIC SEPTIM)) shows clearly that the coins were not made for general circulation. They were made during the same period as the trials for the Profile issue of Groats and Half-Groats, so they were probably trial pieces or patterns.

The testoon was struck in quantity during the last part of the reign of Henry VIII, with The Tower, Southwark and Bristol mints producing testoons in 1544-1551. These testoons were made in the very poor base silver, as were all coins of this period, and are known as base testoons. The coins were struck after Henry's death in 1547, at The Tower, Southwark, and possibly at Bristol.

The mint-marks for these testoons are as follows:

TOWER (London)
* two lis OR
* lis OR
* pellet in annulet

* S OR
* E

* WS

The coins from Southwark have the reverse legend "CIVITAS LONDON" (City of London) and the Bristol coins the legend "CIVITAS BRISTOLLIE"
The obverse of these coins shows a facing bust of Henry VIII and the reverse a crowned rose.

The Shilling

Henry VIII's young son Edward VI continued the issues of base testoons. In his reign the testoons were called shillings for the first time, and the coins show the bust of the young boy king. Unlike his father's coins the shillings of Edward VI cannot be differentiated by their reverse legend. There are 6 slightly different busts for these issues. Most importantly, these coins are the first English ones to carry the date, which is in Roman numerals. The coins were minted at the Durham House, Tower, Southwark, Canterbury and Bristol mints.

The mint-marks for these coins are:

Durham House MDXLVIII (1548)
* BOWThis issue is exceedingly rare and could be a pattern or contemporary forgery.

Durham House MDXLIX (1549)

Tower MDXLIX (1549)

Southwark MDXLIX (1549)
* Y OR
* EY

Canterbury MDXLIX (1549)
* T

Bristol MDXLIX (1549)
* TC

Tower MDL (1550)

Southwark MDL (1550)
* Y OR

Tower MDLI (1551)

Southwark MDLI (1551)

Undated issue (Durham House)


In 1551 the silver standard was restored from about 0.250 silver to the normal 0.925 "sterling" silver. This issue has a stunning facing bust of the king and is very highly collectible. It was struck in large quantities but is normally found fairly worn and sometimes holed.


Tower. No date (1551)
* Y

Tower. No date (1551-3)

No shillings were struck in England until Queen Mary was married in 1554, however Irish shillings with Mary's portrait were struck in 1553 and 1554 before her marriage to Philip of Spain.

After Mary's marriage to King Philip of Spain some shillings were coined. To boost his popularity his bust was placed on these coins, facing Mary's. These coins are fairly rare, but nevertheless do frequently appear on the market. There are two main varieties; Spanish titles (which adds on "Prince and Princess of Spain") and English titles. Many of these coins were dated using Arabic dates and some coins have a mark of value (I__II) above the royal shield. There is an exceedingly rare variety which has the date under the busts. All the coins were made at the Tower mint.

One of the first events of Elizabeth I's reign was the counter-marking of the Edward VI shillings to revalue them to their true worth. These coins have the counter-mark of a Portcullis or Greyhound on and are extremely rare. The coins with the portcullis counter-mark were revalued at fourpence halfpenny, and the coins with the Greyhound were revalued at Twopence Farthing.

A major recoinage was then embarked on, with thousands of silver coins being produced. The shilling was no exception with the date being removed from the design, however mint-marks can be used to reveal the date. No shillings were produced between 1562-82, but the next issue was also very large and a good amount has survived for collectors.



All coins were produced in the Tower

* Lis (1559-1560)
* Cross crosslet (1560-61)
* Marlet (1560-61)
* Bell (1582-83)
* A (1582-84)
* Escallop (1584-86)
* Crescent (1587-89)
* Hand (1590-92)
* Tun (1592-95)
* Woolpack (1594-96)
* Key (1595-98)
* Anchor (1597-1600)
* 1 (1601)
* 2 (1602)


Tower mint only
* Star (1560-1)

The milled issue was produced by Eloye Mestrelle using horsepower. The issues were a success, especially the sixpences, but he lost his post over various disputes with the mint-workers. Although Eloye found it very difficult to make smaller coins the sixpences and shillings were made in fairly large quantities. The shillings still tend to be much rarer than sixpences and are often found weakly struck, gilded, holed, mounted etc. They are still available to collectors, albeit in poor condition.

During the reign of James I's coinage continued in much the same way as in Elizabeth's but the coins have a mark of value (XII) in front of the bust. Some shillings were struck with a plume above the shield (Welsh silver).

The mint marks for these coins are:
First coinage (Reverse legend "Exurgat deus dissipentur inimici")
* Lis (1603-4)
* Thistle (1603-4)

Second coinage (Reverse legend "Quae deus coniunxit nemo seperat", square cut beard)
* Lis (1604-5)
* Rose (1604-6)
* Escallop (1606-7)
* Grapes (1607)
* Coronet (1607-9)
* Key (1609-10)
* Mullet (1611-2)
* Tower (1612-3)
* Trefoil (1613)
* Tun (1613-5)
* Cinquefoil (1613-5)
* Closed book (1615-6)
* Plain cross (1617-18)

Third coinage (Very long curly hair )
* Spur Rowel (1619-20)
* Rose (1620-1)
* Thistle (1621-3)
* Lis (1623-4)
* Trefoil (1624

WELSH issues, with plume above shield
* Thistle (1621-3)
* Lis (1623-4)
* Trefoil (1624)

With the exception of Mary I shillings were minted in every subsequent reign as well as during the Commonwealth period. Until the reign of Edward VII monarchs typically issued a wide variety of design types. During the early part of the reign of George III very few shillings (like other silver coins) were struck, although there was a large issue in 1787. In 1763 coins were issued by the Earl of Northumberland to commemorate his ascension. This issue is now very rare, but the contemporary rumour that the issue limit was £100 (2000 pieces) is probably untrue. In 1787 the hearts were left out of the Hanoverian shield in error, but the error was so minor that it took some time for it to be noticed and corrected, so both types are of similar value. In 1798 Mr Doriens Magens struck an issue of shillings in excess of 10,000 pieces, but it was stated to be illegal so the coins were reclaimed and melted down. There are currently about 4 in existence and an example would be worth over £10,000 in any condition.

1816 to 1967

After the Great Recoinage of England's money in 1816 the shilling was standardized with a weight of 5.7 grams and a diameter of 24 mm. In 1920, along with other national coins, the silver content was reduced from 92.5% (sterling) to 50%, and in 1947 to pure cupro-nickel.

The shilling coin issued in most of the 20th century was virtually identical in size and weight to the German 1 Deutsche Mark coin (sufficiently similar to be interchangeable in coin-operated machines). This reflected the pre-First World War exchange rate of 20 marks to one pound; by the end of the shilling's circulation, the mark was worth six times as much.

During the reign of Elizabeth II, shillings were minted featuring both the English "three lions" (technically "three leopards couchants") coat of arms, and the Scottish "lion rampant" coat of arms (see illustration above).

Before decimalisation, there were twenty shillings to the pound and twelve pence to the shilling, and thus 240 pence to the pound. Two coins denominated in multiple shillings were also in circulation at this time. They were the florin (two shillings), which adopted the value of ten new pence (10p) in 1971, and the crown (five shillings), the highest denominated non-bullion UK coin in circulation at decimalisation.


The last shillings issued for circulation were dated 1967, although proofs were issued as part of a collectors' set dated 1970. In 1968, new decimal coins, "five new pence" with the same weight and specifications, started to replace shillings, and inherited the shilling's slang name of a "bob". Shillings and florins remained in circulation alongside the 5p and 10p coins until 1990, when smaller 5p and 10p coins were introduced.

In popular culture

A slang name for a shilling was a "bob" (which was invariant in the plural, as in "that cost me two bob"). In The Gambia, white people are called "tuobabs", supposedly from the price of a slave which was 2 shillings.Fact|date=March 2008

To "take the King's shilling" was to enlist in the army or navy, a phrase dating back to the early 19th century; specifically in the context of kissing the image of the sovereign in general, a shilling being a convenient object carrying the likeness.Fact|date=July 2007 Supposedly the practice of press gangs whereby they would drop a shilling into a tankard, and thus trick the unwary patron to touch his lips to the shilling, supposedly enough to submit to conscription, led to the development of glass bottomed tankards.Fact|date=July 2007 In a modern context, to say someone has "taken the King's shilling" implies in a derogatory way that they are in the pocket (or employment) of another.

To "cut someone off without a shilling" (or "with a shilling", that is, with no more than a shilling) means to disinherit.

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