Coins of England and Great Britain

('Coins of the UK')

by Tony Clayton

Thirty Pence ('Two and Six' or Half Crown)

Two Shillings <<-- : -->> 3s, 40d and 45d

Values of Half Crowns
Pictures of Half Crowns

Quarter Ryal

As a result of the rising price of gold during the early 1460's, the gold noble, valued at 80 pence, and its fractions, the half-noble and quarter noble, became very undervalued, and consequently tended to get melted down.

At first they were revalued at 100 pence to the noble, and then in 1464, during the first reign of Edward IV, a new coin of similar design weighing 120 grains (rather than the previous 108 grains) and valued at 10 shillings (120 pence) was introduced. This was known as the Rose Noble or Ryal. The quarter ryal was therefore valued at thirty pence, and was issued for the rest of the decade.

There were three types of quarter ryal, with a shield on the obverse with a rose either above (possibly unique), to the left or to the right. The reverse shows a rose over a radiate sun. The denomination was discontinued in 1470.

Half Crown

The half crown was first issued in 1526 during the reign of Henry VIII, and was struck in gold. The issue continued until the reign of Edward VI, but because of its small size (18-20 mm diameter) combined with high value it was not popular, and in 1551 the first silver half crown was produced. This is a splendid coin showing the king riding on horseback, with the date underneath.

It was a shortlived series - the denomination was not issued again until the reign of Elizabeth I, who once again issued gold halfcrowns. These were mainly hammered, but there is a rare milled gold halfcrown. During the last two years of her reign silver halfcrowns were produced once again. Watch out for coins with the mintmark 2, which are very much rarer than the normal 1.

Gold halfcrowns were finally minted during the reign of James I, but the coinage of silver halfcrowns continued. The issues of Charles I are very complex as is the case for the shilling. Coincraft lists no less than 128 different varieties, some of which are unique, not including the unusual siege coins of Newark and Scarborough.

The halfcrown continued to be issued during the Commonwealth and the last hammered coins were issued by Charles II.

Milled halfcrowns were issued with the portrait of Oliver Cromwell in 1656 and 1658. Those of Charles II started in 1663, and the halfcrown was issued regularly until 1751, during the reign of George II. All in this period have the regnal year inscribed on the edge.

The series is made more complex by a variety of mint marks during the reigns of William III and Anne, and provenance marks indicating where the silver had come from. In addition the coins of 1696 had three reverses: small (narrow) shields with ordinary harp (so on the values list); large (wide) shields with the early harp (le); and large shields with ordinary harp (lo). The 'early' harp has its top left much higher that its top right, whereas in the ordinary harp they are level.

Coins minted in London had no mark, but other mints were used and had the following marks:

1696 to 1698
B Bristol
C Chester
E Exeter
N Norwich
y York

1707 to 1709
E Edinburgh

The following list gives the provenance marks listed on the values page:

ec: Elephant and Castle (from Africa Company)
el: Elephant (from Africa Company)
pl: Plumes (below bust and/or on the reverse, from Wales)
V : VIGO (captured in Vigo Bay)
rp: roses and plumes (from "The Company for Smelting down Lead from Pitcoale and Seacole")
SSC: SSC (South Sea Company)
r : roses (as for roses and plumes)
L : LIMA (captured by Admiral Anson)

After 1751 there was a large gap until the Great Recoinage of 1816, when the halfcrown was produced once again.

Well worn examples of the issues of George III are very common. They have a diameter of 32 mm and a weight of 14.1 g, dimensions which remained the same for the half crown until decimalisation in 1971. The reverse of all subsequent halfcrowns consists of a shield with the royal coat of arms.

The first portrait, used in 1816 and 1817, was not very flattering of King George, so a new design came out during 1817. The halfcrown was then issued almost every year until 1850, when minting ceased because of the introduction of the florin in 1849. Unusually, in 1820 coins were issued for both George III and George IV.

Halfcrowns of George IV come with two obverses and four reverses, as follows:
Obverse 1: Laureate Head, GEORGIUS IIII D G BRITANNIAR REX F D (1820-4)
Obverse 2: Bare Head, GEORGIUS IV DEI GRATIA, {date} below (1824-9, 1824 version very scarce)
Reverse 1a: Garnished Shield, large crown above, ANNO {date} below (1820-1)
Reverse 1b: As above but with small differences in many places (1821-3)
Reverse 2: Crowned shield with garter on which is HONI SOIT QUI MAL Y PENSE, ANNO {date} below (1823-4).
Reverse 3: Garnished shield surmounted by helmet and crown, BRITANNIARUM REX FID DEF around (1824-9, 1824 version very scarce).

William IV halfcrowns usually have the designers initials (WW) in script on the truncation of the head, but rare varieties of 1831 and 1834 have the initials in block letters.

Queen Victoria

The early issues of Queen Victoria up to 1850 had a portrait in fairly high relief.

In the years 1851 to 1873 no halfcrowns were issued for circulation, as the florin was used in its place. Proofs are known dated 1853 (from the Proof Set of that year), 1862 and 1864.

Halfcrowns are known dated between 1866 and 1871, but these are forgeries, almost without exception.

When the halfcrown was reintroduced in 1874 a lower relief portrait of the Queen was used. Both types had a similar reverse showing a coat of arms with a wreath around. This sometimes causes confusuion with the crown, which had the same reverse design.

Design changes took place in 1887 (the Jubilee issue) and 1893 (the Old or Veiled Head issue). Minor variations in the reverse of the Veiled Head issues are known, mainly distinguished by the length of the border teeth.

Edward VII

A completely new design was used in 1902 on the accession of Edward VII, and unusually the reverse was left unchanged for the early George V issues.

The key date in this reign is 1905.

George V

The original portrait of George V is in fairly high relief. As mentioned above, the reverse was originally kept the same as for the issue of Edward VII.

In 1920 the price of silver rose to the extent that the intrinsic values of the silver coinage exceeded face value. As a result the silver content was reduced to 50%. At first the new alloy did not wear well, and later modifications were made.

In 1926 the effigy was modified. The most straightforward way to tell the two types of 1926 apart is to compare them with the 1920-1925 versions or the 1927-1936. The BM on the truncation is further to the right in the modified version, and no longer has full stops. In addition there are differences in the beading round the edge on both sides of the coin.

A revised reverse appeared in 1928, with proof versions of this new design dated 1927. Unusually, the specimen illustrated has been recovered from circulation.

Edward VIII

A new design was to be issued for Edward VIII, but on his abdication the design was abandoned. Rare patterns are known.

George VI

A modified version of the George V reverse was issued by George VI. In 1947 the alloy used was changed from 50% silver to cupronickel. A further change took place in 1949 with the removal of the words IND IMP from the reverse.

It is believed that only two half crowns dated 1952 are known. One was recovered from circulation (image courtesy of Colin Cooke of Manchester), while the other is a VIP proof. Nickel was in short supply at that time because of the Korean War, and so none were intended to be issued.

Elizabeth II

In 1953 a new design was issued with the portrait of Elizabeth II, the reverse having a crowned shield flanked by E and R. As with other denominations, the obverse inscription changed after 1953. Coins dated 1954, 1958 and 1959 are very difficult to find in uncirculated condition, as at that time collecting by date was less prevalent than it is today.

The coin was finally demonetized on 1st January 1970 in preparation for decimalisation the following year. Proof coins dated 1970 were never legal tender.

A Thought on the Halfcrown and Florin

The coexistence of the florin (2s) and the halfcrown (2s6d) for nearly a hundred years must be unusual in the coinage of modern countries.

My recollection of their use is that they were never confused despite their similarity in size, and the two coins were useful in giving change in the pre-decimal system. It would be interesting to hear of any other country (other than those using the pounds-shillings-pence system) that had two coins of such similar value for such a long period of time.

It is rather like the US having a 20 cent coin as well as a quarter. I know they tried it, but the experiment only lasted 3 years.

Canada did too, but they withdrew the 20c coin when they issued the 25c.

I am grateful to Alexander Jirnov of Moscow for pointing out that between 1760 and 1917 Russia had coins of value 20 kopecks and 25 kopecks in circulation together, a longer period than that of the coexistence of the florin and halfcrown.


See my Main Coins Index page for acknowledgements


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Coins of the UK - Thirty Pence
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v38 29th March 2016
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