Coins of England and Great Britain

('Coins of the UK')

by Tony Clayton

The Shilling

The Sixpence <<-- : -->> 18 & 20 Pence

Values of Shillings
Pictures of Shillings 1500-1800
Pictures of Shillings 1800-1970

The Origin of the Shilling

The scilling or scylling (which possibly comes from the Teutonic root skil meaning to divide) was used in Anglo-Saxon times as money of account, even though no coins of that denomination existed. It was mentioned not only in Anglo-Saxon poems as scylling, but also in the 14th century by the poet Langland as shilling.

The Saxon Scilling was considered to be five pence (a fore-runner of decimalisation when the shilling equalled five new pence?!), but William I fixed its value at twelvepence, the value that continued until 1971.

The shilling was often known as a 'bob' as in 'Have you got a couple of bob you can lend me?'. The origin of this term is uncertain, although a 'bobe' was a French one-and-a-half denier coin of the 14th Century (the Oxford English Dictionary considers its survival in this way to be unlikely). There is also a possible connection with Sir Robert Walpole; it is speculation that the 'King's shilling' given to Army recruits may be the link here.

The Testoon

The shilling, or testoon as it was originally called, valued at 12 pence was first issued in 1502 during the reign of Henry VII. These early issues are extremely rare, and even a fine version would set you back at least 4000 pounds ($6500 US). They were clearly not popular at first, and the next issue of testoons took place 42 years later in the reign of Henry VIII.

The Shilling

The coin became known as a shilling during the reign of Edward VI. Some early coins of this reign are dated 1548 in roman numerals, which makes them and the similar half sovereigns the earliest dated coins in the British series. Mintage continued regularly after that, although none are known from the sole reign of Mary I. Those of Philip and Mary show the two monarchs facing each other.

The really interesting period comes during the reign of Charles I, because not only were there a wide range of styles and mints for the official coinage (The Coincraft catalogue lists 76 different varieties), but there were some unusual provisional issues made from plates and other silver items while the city of Carlisle and the towns Newark, Scarborough and Pontefract were under siege.

Shillings were produced in quantity during the Commonwealth, and the Cromwell coin, though scarce, is more common than some other denominations.

During the reign of Charles II milled shillings began to be produced in very large numbers, although collecting the series is complicated by the wide range of provenance marks and dates, the former indicating the origin of the metal used for the coins. The 1681 with elephant and castle is particularly rare. There are no less than six head types.

Milled shillings from 1658 weigh about 6.0 g and have a diameter of 25-26 mm.

The shillings of William and Mary show their conjoined busts on the obverse, and have the date around the centre of the coin on the reverse, with intertwined initials W and M between the shields.

A most interesting variety occurs amongst the issues of William III, where the error of date 1669 was made instead of 1696. During this reign several provincial mints were in use, and their coins are indicated by a letter under the bust.

The later series prior to the Great Recoinage of 1816 are a very complex group with many varieties of provenance marks, and a number of scarce errors. The following coins are particularly scarce:

Queen Anne 1704 plain reverse, 1707 mm E* (Edinburgh Mint).

George I 1721 plumes & roses reversed, 1723 WCC below head (Welsh Copper Company), 1724 WCC below head, 1725 WCC below head, 1726 roses & plumes, 1726 WCC below head, 1727.

An interesting coin of George II is the Lima shilling, which has the word LIMA under the king's bust to indicate that it was made from silver captured by Admiral Anson.

George III

There are two famous rarities of George III. The first is the Northumberland Shilling of 1763. This was distributed by Hugh, Earl of Northumberland on his installation in Dublin as Viceroy of Ireland. About 150 pounds worth was minted, representing 3000 shillings, a very small mintage.

The second was the Dorrien and Magens shilling of 1798. Several London bankers had acquired about 30000 pounds worth of silver which was sent to the Mint for coining. Unfortunately the Lords of the Committee in Council declared the coins illegal, and the very great majority were melted down. One of the banks went by the glorious name of 'Messrs Dorrien, Magens, Mello, Martin and Harrison'. It seems that the government were worried that the issue would stimulate a demand for more coins which they would have been powerless to satisfy, as the price of silver was very high.

In comparison the 1787 issue is relatively common, and has several varieties compared with the few of the sixpence. The obverse has a dot above the head, or no dot above the head, or, more scarce, no dots on the obverse at all. The reverse has two main varieties, with or without a semée of hearts in the Hanoverian shield, and the latter also exists with no stops at the date ('semée of' is a heraldic term for 'dotted with').

After the Great Recoinage which started in 1816 the shilling was produced almost every year until decimalisation. These new shillings weigh about 5.7 g and have a diameter of 24 mm.

There is one type only of the new style shilling:

Obverse: GEOR:III.D:G:BRITT:REX F:D: Head of George III right, date under
Reverse: Shield in a Garter

Issued 1816 to 1820. Varieties include 1817 GEOE error, 1818 High 8, 1819/8 and 1820 I/S in HONI. 1818 is the scarcest date. The design is very similar to that of the sixpence.

George IV

Three types of shilling were issued during this reign:

Type One: 1821 only
Obverse: GEORGIUS IIII D:G: BRITANNIAR:REX F:D: laureate head left
Reverse: Garnished Shield, ANNO 1821 below

Type Two: 1823-1825
Obverse: As Type One
Reverse: Shield in Garter, ANNO {date} below

Type Three: 1825-1827, 1829
Obverse: GEORGIUS IV DEI GRATIA Bare head left, date below

William IV

One Type, issued from 1834 to 1837, although a fairly scarce proof dated 1831 exists.

Reverse: ONE SHILLING surrounded by wreath, crown above and date below.

The 3 in the date usually has a flat top, but some (but not all) proofs have a round top. Therefore the presence of a round top means the coin IS a proof, but a flat top does not necessarily mean it is a circulation issue coin.


There are three main types of Victorian shilling, and each of these has sub-types, some of which are scarce.

Type One: Young Head

All basically have the Young Head portrait of the Queen on the obverse, with a ONE SHILLING design as for William IV on the reverse.

The various heads show a maturing of the portrait as time passes.

A list of die numbers can be accessed by following this link.

Type Two: Jubilee Head

All show the Jubilee portrait on the obverse and a shield in a garter on the reverse.

Type Three: Old Head

All show the veiled 'Old Head' on the obverse and three shields within a garter on the reverse, with a rose between the upper two shields.

The small rose versions of 1895 and 1896 are the scarcer types of those dates.

Edward VII

The reverse design for all Edward VII shillings shows a lion rampant on a crown, a design carried on unchanged by George V. The 1905 shilling is very scarce, especially in top condition.

George V

The first type (1911-1919) continued with the Edward VII reverse design.

In 1920 the silver content was reduced from 92.5% to 50% because of a dramatic rise in the price of silver. This second type was issued from 1920 to 1926. Problems with the alloy because of poor appearance after wear meant a slight change was made in the alloying additions in 1922 and again in 1927.

During 1926 the obverse was modified to have a lower relief. This is very obvious, but confirmation can be effected by looking at the truncation on the head. The initials BM are smaller and close to the back (right) of the truncation. This third type was issued from 1926 to 1927.

During 1927 a new reverse design was issued in proof sets, and then uniquely the 1927 shilling in the new design was issued for circulation. This fourth type continued until 1936.

Edward VIII

A pattern shilling of Edward VIII does exist, in the same design as the later George VI Scottish shilling.

George VI

The issues of George VI and Elizabeth II are unusual in that two different designs were issued each year (except 1952), an English and a Scottish version. They were not distributed solely in the relevant countries, but circulated equally alongside each other.

The English shilling of George VI has the lion standing left on a large crown, while on the Scottish shilling the lion is facing, holding a sword & sceptre flanked by St Andrews Cross and a thistle.

The metal used changed to cupronickel in 1947, although a very rare 1947E shilling in silver has been reported, and is listed in the Coincraft catalogue.

A design change took place in 1949 with the removal of the words IND IMP on India becoming an independant republic.

Because of the high demand for nickel in the Korean War no 1952 shillings were issued, although extremely rare Proofs of the English version do exist.

Elizabeth II

The English shilling of Elizabeth II has three 'leopards' facing left, in a shield, while the Scottish shilling has a rampant lion.

In common with other denominations, the 1953 coins differ from later issues in having a weaker bust and the extra words BRITT OMN in the legend.

The last regular issue shillings were minted in 1966. Two years later the new five-pence piece with identical dimensions began to be issued prior to decimalisation in 1971, although proof shillings dated 1970 were issued later.

Shillings and 5p coins circulated together until the end of 1990, when they were superseded by a new smaller 5p coin. Thus ended the 488 year history of the shilling.


See my Main Coins Index page for acknowledgements


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Coins of the UK - Shilling
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v44 13th April 2017
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