Sixpence (British coin)
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|Diameter||19.40  mm|
|Thickness||approx. 1 mm|
|Composition||1816-1919: 92.5% Ag
1920-1946: 50% Ag
|Years of minting||1551–1970|
In England, the first sixpences were struck in the reign of Edward VI in 1551 and continued until they were rendered obsolete by decimalisation in 1971. Along with the shilling (12 pence) and the florin (2 shillings), the last general issue sixpence was issued in 1967. A special proof version was struck for inclusion in the farewell proof set of 1970. Sixpences continued to be legal tender with a value of 2½ new pence until 30 June 1980. The shilling and the florin (two shillings) continued to be legal tender until the sizes of the 5 and 10 pence coins were reduced in 1990 and 1992 respectively.
After the Great Recoinage of 1816, the mint coined each troy pound (weighing 5760 grains) of standard (0.925 fine) silver into 66 shillings, or the equivalent in other denominations. This set the weight of the sixpence at 43.636 grains or 2.828 grams from 1816 until the last striking in 1970.
The silver content followed the pattern of other silver coins. They were sterling silver until 1919 and were reduced to 50 percent silver from 1920. The last 50% silver sixpence was minted in 1946; they were changed to 79% copper, 20% zinc, 1% nickel, also known as cupro-nickel, from 1947 onwards.
As the supply of silver threepence coins slowly disappeared, Royal Mint sixpences replaced them as the coins put into Christmas puddings; children would hope to be the lucky one to find the sixpence, no doubt also encouraging them to eat more pudding.
In Great Britain, there is a well-known tradition of the bride wearing ‘Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue, and a silver sixpence in her shoe.’ A silver sixpence in the bride's shoe is a traditional good luck wedding gesture and customarily, it is the father of the bride who places the sixpence as a symbol of him wishing her prosperity, love and happiness in her marriage.
They are also used as a good luck charm by Royal Air Force aircrew who have them sewn behind their wings or brevets, a custom dating back to the Second World War.
In A Midsummer Night's Dream (Act 4, Scene 2), we learn that by his absence (ensorcelled in Titania's bower), Bottom the Weaver will forgo sixpence a day for life from the Duke. In Elizabethan times, six pence was roughly a day's wage for rustic labour in the provinces. With it, one might buy two dinners, six performances of Hamlet among the groundlings at the Globe Theatre, or an unbound copy of the play itself.
"I've Got Sixpence" a traditional song, runs:
- I've got sixpence. Jolly, jolly sixpence.
- I've got sixpence to last me all my life.
- I've got twopence to spend and twopence to lend
- And twopence to send home to my wife.
An elaborated version was published in 1941, words and music by Elton Box & Desmond Cox.: the singer tells the tale of spending twopence (per verse) until he has "no-pence to send home to my wife - poor wife."
- This is based on story 57 of the Gesta Romanorum, in which a carpenter explains that he needs eight pence every day: two to repay (to his father), two to lend (to his son), two to throw away (on his wife) and two to spend (on himself).
- Catalog #vn1462851 for the score in the National Library of Australia
- Joicey, Nicholas (1993), "A Paperback Guide to Progress: Penguin Books 1935-c.1951", Twentieth Century British History, Vol. 4, No. 1, pp. 25-56; and Ross McKibbin Classes and Cultures: England 1918-1951, Oxford, 1998, ISBN 0-19-820672-0.