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    

1847 Queen Victoria Great Britain Silver Proof Gothic Crown Coin Pcgs Pr53Unopened - Royal Mint 50p Olympic Coin Collection Completer Medallion Medal NrA Fine Celtic Iceni Boar/horse Silver Unit Found Norfolk. Boudica1871 Queen Victoria Great Britain London Mint Gold Sovereign Pcgs Ms631887 Queen Victoria Great Britain London Mint Gold Sovereign Ngc Ms642017 Sovereign, British Gold Coin From Elizabeth Ii BuSovereign Scales Antique Old Brass W Gold Lustre Victorian Box British LondonSuperb Gef Godless Victoria 1849 Full Silver Florin....lucido_8 Coin1716 Guinea, Forth Bust, British Gold Coin From George I Fine1793 Guinea British Gold Coin From George Iii Gf1919 C King George V Canada Ottawa Mint Gold Sovereign Pcgs Ms63Ngc Xf-45 England Silver 1 Shilling 1560-61 (elizabeth-i) Pop: 4/2Hammered Silver Coin Robert 2nd Scottish Half Groat C 1371 Ad1967 Queen Elizabeth Ii Great Britain Gold Sovereign Coin Pcgs Ms64Rare 1849 Godless Gothic Florin, No Ww, British Silver Coin Victoria Aef1897 Victoria Crown LxGreat Britain 1911 Gold 5 Sovereign Ngc Pf66 Cameo Ex Rare This Nice! Shot 671989 Ngc Pf70ucam Great Britain Proof Gold Sovereign (pound) 500th Anniv Pop 7Hammered Silver Coin Elizabeth 1st Sixpence 1578 AdRare 1931 George V Sterling Silver Wreath Crown British Coin No ReserveNgc Ms-64 England Silver 1 Shilling 1696 (the Highest Grade!) Pop: 1/01887 Queen Victoria Great Britain Silver Crown Coin Pcgs Ms64A Trace Lustred Unc Victoria * 1860 * Penny 1d ...lucido_8 Coins1989 Ngc Pf70ucam Great Britain Proof Gold 5 Sovereign/pounds Rare Pop 31893 Victoria Crown Lvi1849 Queen Victoria Great Britain Silver Godless Florin Two Shilling CoinRare 1903 S Half Sovereign, British Gold Coin Edward Vii [only 231,000 Minted]1849 Godless Gothic Florin, British Silver Coin Victoria EfA Choice Gothic Victoria 1885 Full Silver Florin....lucido_8 Coin1989 Ngc Pf70ucam Great Britain Proof Gold 2 Sovereign/pounds 500th Anniv Pop 191714 Queen Anne Pattern Farthing Ext Rare - Stunning Coin - Virtually As Struck1792 Guinea, British Gold Coin From George Iii Gvf1907 King Edward Vii Great Britain London Mint Gold Sovereign Pcgs Ms63Scarce 1916 S Half Sovereign, British Gold Coin George V [only 448,000 Minted]Queen Anne - 1714 Copper Farthing Scarce1707 Halfcrown, Plain Angles, British Silver Coin From Ann GfHammered Silver Coin Charles 1st Sixpence C 1633 AdScarce 2002 Sheild Sovereign, British Gold Coin From Elizabeth Ii BuVery Rare 1900 S Half Sovereign, Gold Coin From Edward Vii [only 130,000 Minted]Great Britain 1911 Gold 2 Sovereign Ngc Pf67 Cameo Rare This Nice! Finest Known1878 Queen Victoria Great Britain Silver Halfcrown Half Crown Coin Pcgs Ms621902 Edward Vii Great Britain Silver Matt Proof Halfcrown Half Crown Pcgs Pr64Great Britain George I Milled Shilling 1717. Md-2022Charles I Halfcrown, Gp Iii, Type 3a2, Mm Triangle In Circle1797 George Iii "cartwheel" Two-penny Lovely Detailed, Highly Sought After Coin1787 Solid Silver Shilling Coin Old Antique Royal Mint Georgian Vintage LondonGreat Britain 1911 Gold Sovereign Ngc Pf66 Ex Rare This Nice!1989 Ngc Pf69ucam Great Britain Proof Gold 1/2 Sovereign (pound) 500th AnnivChoice Uncirculated 1915 Austria Gold Ducat Of Franz Joseph Ii 1723 Ssc Brv-large N George I Silver Shilling Coin GvfVf 1662 Charles Ii Crown 1889 Crown British Silver Coin From Victoria AefA Choice Gothic Victoria 1883 Full Silver Florin....lucido_8 Coin1797 King George Iii Great Britain Copper Cartwheel Twopence Two Pence 2d CoinA Rare Lustred Unc Victoria * 1882 H * Penny 1d ...lucido_8 CoinsVery Rare Key Date, 1903 Halfcrown, British Silver Coin From Edward Vii Gf+Superb Gef Gothic Victoria 1852 Full Silver Florin....lucido_8 Coin1696 Bristol Mint Solid Silver Shilling Coin Antique London British England KingStunning Saxon King Of Northumbria Styca Ex Ainsbrook Hoard Viking Site Yorks.1912 King George V Great Britain London Mint Gold Sovereign Pcgs Ms62