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The Shilling

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2 Shilling "Florin" Obverse

2 Shilling “Florin” Obverse

Numismatics is an interesting field, and in doing research for an upcoming novel, I wanted to know just what currencies would have been used at the time (1750s, England), and what the value of the currencies were:  How much could be purchased or earned?  Would a Stirling pound have made a pauper a land owner or not?  That brought me to the current book I’m reading, called “The Splendid Shilling” by James O’Donald Mays.  Here are a few bits and bobs:

The Shilling was a form of currency used in Britain up until the 1970s; even after that, the coins continued in circulation as smaller denominations (1 shilling was 5 p, and 2 shilling was 10p) until 1990, when it was demonetized.  I remember using them until they were phased out and replaced by the smaller coins of 5p and 10p values, and kept a few for my coin collection.  One shilling coins were called “bobs”, and that led to programs such as “bob-a-job” fund raisers by the boyscouts, starting in 1914.  Two shillings were known as

2 Shilling "Florin" Reverse

2 Shilling “Florin” Reverse

Florins, or “two-bob bits”.

The word shilling most likely comes from a Teutonic word, skel, to resound or ring, or from skel (also skil), meaning to divide.  The Anglo-Saxon poem “Widsith” tells us …”þær me Gotena cyning gode dohte; se me beag forgeaf, burgwarena fruma, on þam siex hund wæs smætes goldes, gescyred sceatta scillingrime...”  “There the king of the Goths granted me treasure: the king of the city gave me a torc made from pure gold coins, worth six hundred pence.”  Another translation says that the gold was an armlet, “scored” and reckoned in shilling.  The “scoring” may refer to an ancient payment method also known as “hack” – they would literally hack off a chunk of silver or gold jewellery to purchase goods, services and land, and the scoring may have been pre-scored gold to make it easier to break in even increments, or “divisions”.  From at least the times of the Saxons, shilling was an accounting term, a “benchmark” value to calculate the values of goods, livestock and property, but did not actually become a coin until the reign of Henry VII in the 1500s, then known as a testoon.  The testoon’s name and design were most likely inspired by the Duke of Milan’s testone.

Duke of Milan's Testone

The Duke of Milan’s 16th century Testone

Henry VII Testoon

King Henry VII’s 16th century Testoon

 

 

 

The Uffington White Horse

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Uffington White HorseI like to go “flying” occasionally with Google Earth; it is how my husband and I discovered the Scilly Isles (I’ll tell you more about that sometime), and how I’ve found several hill figures across the UK; here’s one of my favourites:

Dating from the late Bronze Age (1000–700 BC), the Uffington White Horse (in Oxfordshire, nearest the town of Uffington) is a stylized hill figure of 110 metres long, created by deep trenches filled with crushed white chalk. It is protected and maintained by the National Trust as a Scheduled Ancient Monument (if it is not cleaned regularly it would disappear rapidly, the chalk being washed away by rain or the trenches filling in with local vegetation).

Iron Age Celtic CoinsThese coins pictured are Iron Age Celtic coins (the currency of the pre-Roman population), and the designs are comparable to the White Horse, supporting the early dating (it was thought for some time that the figure could have been constructed as late as the Iron Age, 800 BC–AD 100, but samples from silt of the figure supported the earlier date).  The White Horse is by far the oldest such figure in Britain, but certainly not the only one; ancient figures are scattered throughout the British Isles, though Wiltshire alone has at least eight.  When you have a few minutes to spare, take a Google Earth flight over the UK, and see if you can spot any other figures!

 

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