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
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.