Perhaps no coinage is as filled with arcane denominations as Great Britain’s. Since the 8th century, British shopkeepers and merchants have been required to accept six different values for pennies, five types of farthings, and a dizzying variety of shillings, florins, nobles, guineas, crowns, and pounds. The coinage also includes gold sovereigns, which are kept as bullion, and Maundy money, which is handed out by the Monarch once a year as he or she sees fit.

The earliest coins used in the British Isles date to the 2nd century BCE, when invaders from Belgic Gaul on the other side of the English Channel brought gold staters with them. These coins resembled ancient Greek coins, bearing the likeness of Apollo on the obverse and a chariot on the reverse. A century later, copper coins clad in tin from Gaul proper arrived, and by around 90 BCE, gold staters were struck in England itself.

Some of the earliest sources of British coins include those hammered at mints in Colchester, West Surrey, Essex, and Kent. The Roman emperor Julius Caesar attacked the island from 55-54 BCE, and subsequent tributes of gold coins to Rome may have been produced at these and other mints. Then, in the year 43, Claudius conquered the nation outright and saw to it that Roman coins circulated throughout the land. In fact, Roman coins would be used throughout England for another 400 years—many of these coins were struck at the end of the 3rd century at the invading empire’s London mint.

Coinage in England during the Dark Ages was, as one might expect, a hodgepodge, but by the end of the 8th century, the penny had emerged. The earliest examples are thought to have been hammered in Canterbury, and the name of the person doing the striking, the so-called moneyer, was typically stamped right on the coin.

By the beginning of the 11th century, there were some 87 mints throughout England. In most cases, the name of the moneyer and the mint can be found on their faces. And what did they strike? Pennies, which was the land’s sole coinage for about 500 years. Half pennies and farthings also circulated, but only because people would cut their pennies into halves and quarters. It wasn’t until Edward I assumed the throne in 1272 that distinct half pennies and farthings were coined. A fourpence piece known as a groat followed those, and then gold florins circulated beginning in the 14th century.

Milled coins were introduced during the 16th century, when Elizabeth I sat on the throne, but the practice did not become widespread for almost another 100 years. It was during the reign of Charles II that the system of farthings, pence, shillings, florins, crowns, and pounds was codified—gold sovereigns were also added to the mix. Presses turned by humans or horses soon replaced the hammer.

For the most part, British coins depicted whoever happened to be in power at the time. For example, many British coins from the 19th century feature a bust of Queen Victoria on t...

Twentieth-century British coins are also generally plentiful, the exception being Maundy money. Especially collected is Maundy money distributed by Elizabeth II in 1953, her first year as monarch. Based solely on their face values—four coins are distributed, in one-, two-, three-, and four-pence denominations—they should not be worth much at all, but their limited supply (only about 1,000 sets are minted) and handsome red cases make them quite collectible.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Historia

Historia

PeterD’s Historia goes deep on ancient Roman coins (there are about 400 of them), but he also gives Greek coins t… [read review or visit site]

Ancient Coins: In Praise of the Celators!

Ancient Coins: In Praise of the Celators!

Dr. Tom Buggey’s Ancient Coins: In Praise of the Celators! focuses mainly on coins from Greek and Roman antiquity… [read review or visit site]

Worldwide Bi-Metallic Collectors Club

Worldwide Bi-Metallic Collectors Club

Bi-metallic coins have been around since the 17th century, when a copper wedge was added to the English farthing to… [read review or visit site]



Clubs & Associations

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

1562 Elizabeth I Great Britain Silver Early Milled Sixpence Six Pence 6p Coin1989 Elizabeth Ii Great Britain Gold Five Pounds 5 Sovereign £5 Coin 1849 Queen Victoria Great Britain Silver Godless Florin Coin Henry Viii Groat, Excellent Condition, Uncertain Type, Vf+(1604-05) Great Britain Pcgs Xf45 Rainbow Toned Shilling S-26462002 Commonwealth Games £2 Two Pound Coins X4 Set Rare Northern Ireland, Wales1821 George Iv Sovereign Pcgs Ms63 Rare 1714 George I British 22ct Gold Guinea Coin1820 King George Iii Great Britain Gold Sovereign Coin Hammered Coin Silver Penny King Cnut Saxon Viking1820 George Iii Sovereign Pcgs Ms62 Rare Large Date1846 Victoria Great Britain Gold Sovereign Coin 1844 Queen Victoria Great Britain Silver Crown Coin British - 2013 Uk £5 Silver Proof Coin Royal Birth Baby George Rare Qeii Coa Box1797 Cartwheel Twopence Coin From George Iii Ef1824 George Iv Sovereign Pcgs Ms62 Rare 1842 Queen Victoria 22 Carat Solid Gold Full Sovereign Young Head Shield Back1849 Queen Victoria Great Britain Silver Godless Florin Two Shillings CoinVery Scarce 1707 Roses & Plumes Shilling British Silver Coin From AnneGreat Britain Queen Elizabeth Ii 1989 Gold Proof Five Pounds. Ngc Pf69 Ult.cameo100 B.c British Found Germanic Iron Age Celtic Silver Unit Coin. Boii - Noricum1898, South African Republic. Nice Gold 1 Pond (soverign) Coin. 7.97gm!**norman Silver Penny - King Stephen 1135-1154ad, Excellent Portrait** Very Rare 1863 Shilling British Silver Coin From Victoria FineAethelred Ii Penny StamfordRare 1911 C Sovereign, Ottawa Mint, Canada, British Gold Coin From George V Gef1625 A.d King Charles I England Stuart Period Hammered Silver Shilling Coin.vfHammered Silver Coin Henry Viii 8th Groat Superb Condition1790 Guinea British Gold Coin From George Iii Vf**lovely Anglo Saxon Silver Penny - King Cnut 1016-1035ad Stamford Mint** Canute1892, South Africa (republic). Large Silver 5 Shillings Crown. 1-year Type!Hammered Silver Coin Charles 1st Scottish 20 Pence NiceGreat Britain, Victorian Crown, 1887, Km-765, Choice Unc, Gold-orange Patina1591 Queen Elizabeth I Great Britain Silver Sixpence Six Pence 6p Coin1797 George Iii Huge Cartwheel Twopence Antique Historic Copper Coin 41mm1842 Victoria Great Britain Gold Sovereign Coin 1846 Shilling British Silver Coin From Victoria Unc1821 Shilling British Silver Coin From George Iiii Ef1575 Queen Elizabeth I Great Britain Silver Sixpence Six Pence 6p Coin1844 Queen Victoria Great Britain Silver Crown Coin Great Britain Queen Elizabeth Ii 1996 Gold Proof Sovereign Katz Great Britain 1 Crown 1821 Km#680 George Iv Pcgs Unc Details RareGreat Britain Queen Victoria 1866 Gold Half Sovereign Ngc Au582009 Brilliant Uncirculated Set With Kew Gardens 50p; Very Scarce; Free Postage1797 Great Britain Cartwheel Twopence 2 Two Pence2009 Royal Mint Britannia Chariot £2 Two Pound Silver Proof 1oz Coin Box Coa1845 Victoria Great Britain Gold Sovereign Coin 1821 Great Britain 1/2 C George Iiii Half Crown Silver Km#676 Very Rare Au/bu Nr1885 S Victoria Great Britain Australia Sydney Mint Gold Sovereign Coin 1883 Shield Back Half Sovereign British Gold Coin From Victoria Vf+2009 British Britannia £2 Two Pound Silver Proof 1oz Coin Pcgs Pr69 Dcam1885 M Victoria Great Britain Australia Melbourne Mint Gold Sovereign Coin 1776 Guinea British Gold Coin From George Iii FairGreat Britain Queen Elizabeth Ii 1993 Gold Proof Sovereign Ngc Pf69 Ultra CameoNot Hammered But Milled Silver Sixpence Elizabeth 1st1887 Gem Silver 1/2 Crown Victoria Jubilee Lustrous Bu Rare Britain Coin No Res45 Old Uk & Ex-colony Coins (collectibles & Silver) Hi Res Images No RsrvGreat Britain Crown 1677 Jo-2431999 Britannia 1oz .999 Silver Proof £2 Two Pound Coin Afdc1787 King George Iii Great Britain Silver Sixpence Six Pence 6p Coin