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”)



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    

1847 Mdcccxlvii Queen Victoria Great Britain Silver Gothic Proof Crown Coin C.50 B.c British Found Unresearched Iron Age Celtic Bronze & Silver Unit CoinsHammered Silver Coin Henry V 5th Full Groat Superb Rare1280 A.d King Edward I - Longshanks Medieval Period Silver Penny Coin.londonHammered Coin Silver Penny King Cnut Saxon VikingGreat Britain King William Iv 1835 Gold Sovereign** Æthelred Ii * Long Cross Penny * Totnes Mint * Scarce Coin *Pgnum - Great Britain 1/2 Half Penny 1825, George Iv - Pcgs Ms 64 BnPgnum - Great Britain 1/2 Half Crown 1820 - Pcgs Unc DetailsC.4000 B.c British Found Neolithic Flint / Chert Arrow Head - Found At ElfordPgnum - Great Britain 1/2 Half Penny 1826, George Iv - Pcgs Ms 64 Bn1483 A.d King Richard Iii England Medieval Period Silver Penny Coin.york MintVintage / Antique Brass Half And Full Gold Sovereign Balance Scales Very Rare - Charles Ii Pattern Silver Farthing 1665 (54)Large Sized Tudor Silver Coin Dated 1585 Metal Detecting Detector Find6164. Great Britain • Farthing 1827 • Ngc Ms63 Rb6171. Great Britain • 1/2 Crown 1893 • Ngc Ms64Hammered Silver Coin Edward Vi 6th Shilling Superb 1551Cracking Mint Unc Grade Victoria * 1886 * Penny 1d ...lucido_8 Coins6163. Great Britain • 1/3 Farthing 1827 • Ngc Ms62 Rb6161. Great Britain • 6 Pence 1817 • Ngc Ms64Superb Vintage 9ct Solid Gold Full Sovereign Coin Pendant Mount - 1.4gramsRare In This Grade 1889 M Sovereign Slabbed Pcgs Au58 British Gold Coin VictoriaHammered Silver Coin James 1st Shilling C 1623 SuperbBoxed Maundy 1902 Coin Set Unc. Jo-1052Pgnum - Great Britain 1/2 Half Crown 1817, George Iii - Pcgs Unc Details2011 Piedfort Silver £1 One Pound Coin Edinburgh Capital Cities Royal MintPgnum - Great Britain 1/2 Half Penny 1827, George Iv - Pcgs Ms 64 Bn2015 Definitive Britannia Two Pound £2 Silver Proof Coin (fifth Portrait) - NewMilled Silver Coin Shilling King William 3rd 1697 NorwichGb 2003 Coronation £5 Note With £5 Coin Limited Edition Pnc See Below Ts906Hammered Silver Coin Charles 1st Sixpence First Issue 16257215. Great Britain • 1 Penny 1916 • Ngc Ms65 Rb1601 Queen Elizabeth I Great Britain Silver Sixpence Six Pence 6d Coin2015 G Britain Silver Proof Britannia Perfect 6 Coin Set-ngc Pf70 Early Releases2009 Sovereign, Slabbed Pcgs Au68, British Gold Coin From Elizabeth Ii Bu(1699-1843) Nine Uk 1/3 Farthing To Halfpennies (premium Odd Lot) $$$$ No Rsrv6166. Great Britain • 1/4 Farthing 1839 • Ngc Ms63 BnRare Pair William Iii Antique Brass 1 & 1/2 Guinea Coin Weights C1695, Stunning6162. Great Britain • 1/2 Penny 1799 Soho • 5 Incuse Gun Ports • Ngc Au58 BnMilled Scottish Bronze Coin Charles 2nd Bawbee SixpencePgnum - Great Britain Farthing 1834 - Pcgs Ms 63 Bn7214. Great Britain • 1 Penny 1910 • Ngc Ms64 RbNice Lot Of Victorian Silver Coins!! Have A Look!7240. Jersey • Proof 1/12 Shilling 1877 • Ngc Pf61 Rb2010 Brilliant Uncirculated Royal Mint Coin SetExtremely Fine George Iii 1806 Copper Penny 1d.....lucido_8 Coin6168. Great Britain • Farthing 1879 • Small 9 • Ngc Ms63 Bn6159. Ireland • Irish Miners Arms • Cronebane 1/2 Penny 1789 • Ngc Ms62 BnPgnum - Great Britain Farthing 1831 - Pcgs Ms 64 Bn1280 A.d King Henry Iii England Medieval Period Silver Long-cross Penny CoinDecent Early Milled Charles Ii 1673 Farthing 1/4d....lucido_8 CoinCharles Ii Farthing 1672 - Nice Grade (38)Pgnum - Great Britain 1/2 Half Crown 1819, George Iii - Pcgs Au 532001 Sovereign, Slabbed Pcgs Ms64, British Gold Coin From Elizabeth Ii UncGreat Britain 2013 Silver 5 Ounce Britannia Ngc Pf-69 UcamPgnum - Great Britain Farthing 1826, George Iv. Small Head - Pcgs Ms 63 BnPgnum - Great Britain Shilling 1825, George Iv - Pcgs Unc DetailsEngland William & Mary Silver Halfcrown 1689Hammered Silver Coin Elizabeth 1st Half Groat Superb