Sixpence (British coin)

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Six old pence
United Kingdom
Value  140 pound sterling
Mass (Cupronickel) 2.83 g
Diameter (Cupronickel) 19.41 mm
Edge Milled
Composition (1816–1919) 92.5% Ag
(1920–1946) 50% Ag
(1947–1970) Cupronickel
Years of minting 1551–1970
British sixpence 1962 obverse.png
Design Profile of the monarch (Elizabeth II design shown)
Designer Mary Gillick
Design date 1953
British sixpence 1962 reverse.png
Design Various (floral design shown)
Designer Edgar Fuller and Cecil Thomas
Design date 1947
Obverses of the 1787 and 1818 sixpence depicting George III.

The sixpence, known colloquially as the sixpenny bit or tanner, was a British pre-decimal coin, worth six (pre-1971) pence (written as "6d") or 1/40th of a pound sterling.


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.

An 1816, George III, sixpence.
1946 Sixpence depicting George VI.

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 75% copper, 25% nickel, also known as cupro-nickel, from 1947 onwards.

Cultural significance[edit]

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.[1]

An elaborated version was published in 1941, words and music by Elton Box & Desmond Cox.:[2] the singer tells the tale of spending twopence (per verse) until he has "no-pence to send home to my wife – poor wife."

Brian May, guitarist from the British band Queen, uses a sixpence instead of a normal plectrum to play his guitar.[3]

Sixpence None the Richer (also known as Sixpence) is an American rock/pop band whose name was inspired by a passage from the book Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis.

Penguin Books – later known for publishing James Bond series, were selling at their start in 1930s through Woolworths and other high street stores books for sixpence.[4]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ 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).
  2. ^ Catalog #vn1462851 for the score in the National Library of Australia
  3. ^
  4. ^ 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.

External links[edit]