The shilling

One shilling coin 1816
The one shilling coin from 1816, in the reign of George III, was oldest legal tender shilling when Britain went decimal in 1971

The shilling was a silver coin in Britain's pounds, shilling and pence currency system.

A shilling was worth twelve pence (12d). It was also one twentieth of a pound.

The most common slang word for a shilling was a 'bob' as in 'bob a job'.

A shilling is worth 5p in Britain's decimal system.

Origins of the shilling

In King Offa's Saxon money system, one pound was 240 Saxon pennies, but also 20 solidii. A solidus was twelve Saxon pennies. There were no coins or notes for the pound, or the solidus. They were just accounting units.

The term 'shilling' derives from the Saxon word 'scilling'. Scilling was a term of monetary value. It often had the value of twelve pennies (or one solidus), but the precise sum varied in different parts of Saxon England.

The first coin with the same value as one shilling was minted in 1489 in the reign of Henry VII. Originally it was called a testoon.

In the reign of Edward VI (1547 to 1553) the coins were called shillings for the first time.

The modern shilling

The shilling familiar to someone from the 1960s has its origin in the reign of George III.

In 1816, the Royal Mint introduced a complete new set of coins. The range include a new gold sovereign, which replaced the guinea. There were also new silver coins for half-crowns, shillings and sixpences.

From 1937 the Royal Mint issued English and Scottish shillings with different designs.

Decimalisation

The last shillings were minted and in general circulation in 1966. A new coin of the same size and weight, but with a value of five new pence, was first minted in 1968. Given that there were one hundred new pence in a pound, it had the same value as the old one shilling coin. The old coins continued in circulation alongside the new coins and were treated as five pence pieces after 1971.

The shilling remained legal tender until 1990. All shilling coins minted from 1816 onwards were still legal tender until this date.

The very last shilling

The Royal Mint issued a 1970 proof set of the last 'old money' coins. The set contained both English and Scottish shillings dated 1970.

What could you buy for a shilling?

In 1971 when Britain went decimal, a shilling was worth around 50p in today's money. Read more about what you could buy for a shilling in 1970

By Steven Braggs, December 2020

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Retrowow - vintage, retro and social history

20th Century History ★ Antiques & Collectables

Retrowow - vintage, retro and social history

★ 20th Century History ★ Antiques & Collectables ★