Shilling (British coin)

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One shilling
United Kingdom
Value  120 pound sterling
Mass (Cupronickel) 5.66 g
Diameter (Cupronickel) 23.60 mm
Edge Milled
Composition (1816-1919) 92.5% Ag
(1920-1946) 50% Ag
(1947-1970) Cupronickel
Years of minting 1707–1970
British shilling 1963 obverse.png
Design Profile of the monarch (Elizabeth II design shown)
Designer Mary Gillick
Design date 1953
British shilling 1963 reverse.png
Design Various (Coat of arms of England design shown)
Designer William Gardner
Design date 1947

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.[1] There counted 12 pence to the shilling, with 20 shillings to the pound. The British shilling had succeeded the English shilling, and it remained in circulation past Decimal Day 1971 as it was identical in size, weight and value to the decimal five pence (introduced in 1968). Upon decimalisation, the British shilling was superseded by the five-pence piece. The pre-decimal shilling was withdrawn from circulation in 1990, when the five-pence piece was reduced in size.


1706 to 1816[edit]

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, 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. Over 10,000 pieces may have been minted, but only about four are known to exist and an example could be worth over £10,000 in any condition.

1816 to 1967[edit]

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 five-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 five-pence coin was introduced.

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.

1956 Elizabeth II UK shilling showing obverse and English and Scottish reverses

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 20 shillings to the pound and 12 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) coin 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 but was minted infrequently to commemorate important occasions (e.g. the coronation of a new monarch).


The last shillings issued for circulation were dated 1966 (a large number were minted in 1967 but these were all dated 1966), although proofs were issued as part of a collectors' set dated 1970. On April 23rd 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[edit]

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.[2]

In The Gambia, white people are called toubabs, which some claim may derive from the possibility that locals, everytime encountering a westerner, requested two shillings,[citation needed] or from the colonial practice of paying locals two shillings for running errands,[3]—though some consider this explanation implausible.[4]

To "take the King's shilling" was to enlist in the army or navy, a phrase dating back to the early 19th century.[citation needed]

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.[citation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Our Legal Heritage" (unedited ebook), Britannica Online Encyclopedia, January 2011, webpage: EBrit-OLH.
  2. ^ 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. 
  3. ^ The Gambia, eBizguides
  4. ^ The Rough Guide to the Gambia, p. 65, Emma Gregg and Richard Trillo, Rough Guides, 2003