Shilling (British coin)
The British shilling is a historic British coin from the eras of the Kingdom of Great Britain and the later United Kingdom; also adopted as a Scot denomination upon the 1707 Treaty of Union. The word shilling comes from an accounting term that dates back to Anglo-Saxon times, deemed to be the value of a cow in Kent or a sheep elsewhere. There counted twelve pence to the shilling, with twenty shillings to the pound. The British shilling had succeeded the English shilling, and it remained in circulation until Decimal Day 1971. Upon decimalisation the British shilling was superseded by the five-pence piece having a comparable value, size and weight. The pre-decimal shilling was withdrawn from circulation in 1990, when the five pence piece was reduced in size.
1706 to 1816
Shillings were minted in every monarch's reign. During the early part of the reign of King George III, very few shillings (like other silver coins) were struck, although there was a large issue in 1787. A small number of coins dated 1763 were distributed by the Earl of Northumberland in Ireland; 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. The mint coined a large stockpile of silver belonging to a consortium of London bankers into shillings of 1798, which were subsequently declared illegal, reclaimed and melted down. There may have been over 10,000 pieces minted, but there are currently only about four known to exist and an example could be worth over £10,000 in any condition.
1816 to 1967
For the Great Recoinage of 1816, the mint was instructed to coin one troy pound (weighing 5760 grains) of standard (0.925 fine) silver into 66 shillings, or its equivalent in other denominations. This effectively set the weight of the shilling, and its subsequent decimal replacement 5 new pence coin, at 87.2727 grains (or 5.655 grams) with a diameter of 24 mm from 1816 to 1990, when the new smaller 5p coin was introduced.
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 Queen Elizabeth II, shillings were minted featuring both the English three lions passant coat of arms, and the Scottish lion rampant coat of arms (see illustration). Distinct English and Scottish reverses were also a feature of shillings minted during the reign of her father King George VI.
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 existence at this time. They were the florin (two shillings), which was in general circulation and adopted the value of ten new pence (10p) in 1971, and the crown (five shillings), the highest denominated non-bullion UK coin at decimalisation. The crown was not in general circulation at the time, however, being minted infrequently to commemorate important occasions (e.g. the coronation of a new monarch).
The last shillings issued for circulation were dated 1967, although proofs were issued as part of a collectors' set dated 1970. In 1968, the new decimal five pence coin (initially called "five new pence"), with the same weight and specifications, started to replace the shilling. It initially inherited the shilling's slang name of a bob, although this word is now less used. Shillings and florins (two-shilling coins) remained in circulation alongside the 5p and 10p coins until 1990, when smaller 5p and 10p coins were introduced. The shilling was finally withdrawn on 1 January 1991.
In popular culture
A slang name for a shilling was a "bob" (plural as singular, as in "that cost me two bob"). The first recorded use was in a case of coining heard at the Old Bailey in 1789, when it was described as cant, "well understood among a certain set of people", but heard only among criminals and their associates.
In The Gambia, white people are called toubabs, which some claim derives from the fact that the price of a slave was two shillings, or from the colonial practice of paying locals two shillings for running errands—though some consider this explanation implausible.
To "cut someone off with a shilling" means to disinherit, as leaving a family member a single shilling in one's will ensured that it could not be challenged in court as an oversight.
- "Our Legal Heritage" (unedited ebook), Britannica Online Encyclopedia, January 2011, webpage: EBrit-OLH.
- Sessions Papers of the Old Bailey for 3 June 1789, quoted in "bob, n.8". Oxford English Dictionary (2 ed.). Oxford, England: Oxford University Press. 1989.
- The Gambia, eBizguides
- The Rough Guide to the Gambia, p. 65, Emma Gregg and Richard Trillo, Rough Guides, 2003