Coins of England and Great Britain

('Coins of the UK')

by Tony Clayton


The Fourpence or Groat <<-- : -->> The Shilling

Values of Sixpence
Pictures of Sixpence 1551 - 1800
Pictures of Sixpence 1800 - 1970

The sixpence was introduced during the reign of Edward VI in 1551, with a facing portrait of the king with a rose to the left and the denomination VI to the right.

The next issue took place in 1554 during the reign of Philip and Mary with a date appearing above the busts. Versions with the date below the bust are extremely rare.

Sixpences of the reign of Elizabeth I are really quite common, although there are some extremely rare varieties. The size is similar to that of the groat, but can be distinguished by a rose behind the head. The first milled sixpence appeared for 11 years between 1561 and 1571.

The denomination continued to be issued up until the Civil War, and there are a wide variety of issues of Charles I minted at the many mints that were set up around the country.

The sixpence was struck during the Commonwealth, but versions with the portrait of Oliver Cromwell are exceedingly rare. The Coincraft catalogue states that possibly only four exist.

The milled sixpence started to be issued in quantity in 1674, and they were issued reasonably regularly until 1967. Prior to 1816 they weighed about 3.0g and had a diameter of 21mm. After 1816 the weight was reduced to 2.8g and the diameter to 19mm.

Sixpence of Charles II were issued each year from 1674 to 1684. The obverse has the portrait facing right with CAROLVS II DEI GRATIA around, and like the reverse has only one type. There are four overdates in this series. They are 1675/4, 1676/5, 1678/7 and 1682/1. The 1678 is always over 1687.

The sixpence of James II was issued for just three years from 1686 to 1688. There are three different reverses for the 1687 coin varying in the shape of the shields on the reverse. In addition there is a 1687/6 overdate and an unusual 1686/66 overdate as well. These are no more scarce than their conventional counterparts.

There was then a five year gap before sixpence were issued late in the joint reign of William and Mary in 1693 and 1694. The date is in the centre of the reverse and reads in two lines from left to right with the English Shield (with three leopards) at the top. The 1693 coin exists with an inverted 3 for which coin there is a significant premium.

After the death of Mary the series during the sole reign of William III is very complex, with a variety of busts, mint marks and provenance marks. The wide range of Mint marks include B for Bristol, C for Chester, E for Exeter, N for Norwich and Y or y for York, and reflects the effort put in to the Great Recoinage as the decision was made to remove all the old hammered coins from circulation.

Coincraft lists over 70 different varieties for this reign, thus making an interesting collecting area in its own right. The 1700 issue with a plume below the head is particularly scarce; in 1699 plumes are found on the reverse.

The 1703 sixpence issued by Queen Anne has VIGO below the head having been made from silver captured from the Spanish in 1702 in Vigo Bay. Other coins of the 18th Century had the provenance of the silver used indicated on the reverse by plumes (Wales), roses (silver from mines in the West of England), roses and plumes (Company for smelting down lead with Pitcole and Seacole), and SSC (South Sea Company, of bubble fame), the latter, as far as this denomination is concerned, only for the 1723 sixpence of George I.

There is a scarce plain edge version of the 1717 sixpence of George I that was issued without milling in error. They are not proofs.

During the reign of George II some coins of 1745 and 1746 have LIMA below the bust to indicate that they were made from silver captured by Admiral George Anson in June 1743. The 1746 coin without LIMA is only known as a proof.

Some of the issues of George II were designed by John Sigismund Tanner, and the denomination was known as a 'tanner' right up to decimalisation.

The only sixpence issued by George III in the first 55 years of his reign was issued in 1787. This issue has two main equally common varieties, with and without a semée of hearts on the background of the Hanoverian shield ('semée of' is a heraldic term for 'dotted with').

After the Great Recoinage of 1816 sixpences were produced in quantity. There are two interesting varieties in 1820, the inverted 1 in the date, and the I of HONI over S variety. Both are relatively scarce.

Obverse: Head right, GEOR III DG BRITT REX FD around, date below
Reverse: Shield, HONI SOIT Q MAL Y PENSE on garter around

George IV - 1821, 1824 to 1829 - There are two obverses, changing during 1826, and three reverses, the first changing after 1821 and the second at the same time as the obverse change in 1826. The 1821 coin is known with the BBITANNIAR error (the engraver omitted the first R and added a extra B to try and correct the error).

Obverse Type 1: Laureate head left, GEORGIUS IIII D G BRITANNIAR REX FD around.
Obverse Type 2: Bare head left, GEORGIUS IV DEI GRATIA around, date below.
Reverse Type 1: Shield, large crown above, ANNO 1821 below
Reverse Type 2: Shield, crown above, garter around inscribed HONI SOIT QUI MAL Y PENSE, ANNO date below
Reverse Type 3: Lion on crown, national flowers below, BRITANNIARIUM REX FIDEI DEFENSOR around

William IV - 1831, 1834 to 1837 - Only one type was used during this short reign.

Obverse : Head right, GULIELMUS IIII D G BRITANNIAR REX FD around.
Reverse : SIX PENCE within a wreath, crown above, date below (as for Victoria)

Circulation issues have a flat top to the numeral 3. Round-top 3's occur on proof coins of 1834 to 1836 only.

Victoria - 1838 to 1887, Young Head Issue

Reverse : SIX PENCE within a wreath, crown above, date below.

There are three types of Young Head obverse. Type 1 was used until 1866, then a lower relief Type 2 was used from 1867 to 1880, during which year there was a slight modification (Type 3) which makes the Queen look a little older. In 1884 the reverse was modified, with a larger SIX PENCE.

In 1864 die numbers started to appear above the date, making for an interesting task to try and identify all the existing numbers! A list of known die numbers can be accessed by following this link.

Victoria - 1887 to 1893, Jubilee Head Issue

In 1887 the shield reverse of the Jubilee issue proved a favourite with some who gold plated them and passed them off as half sovereigns. As a result the reverse reverted to the earlier SIX PENCE type during that year, making three different designs of sixpence all dated 1887. The withdrawn shield type is common in good condition as many were saved as curios.

Obverse : Jubilee head left, VICTORIA DEI GRATIA BRITT REGINA FD around.
Reverse 1 : Crowned shield, HONI SOIT QUI MAL Y PENSE on garter around, 1887 below.
Reverse 2 : SIX PENCE within a wreath, crown above, date below (as for Old Head Issue below).

Victoria - 1893 to 1901, Old Head Issue

A new portrait of Queen Victoria was introduced during 1893, although the SIX PENCE reverse was continued with. 1893 sixpences are known with the earlier Jubilee Head, but are rare.

Obverse : Veiled head left, VICTORIA DEI GRA BRITT REGINA FID DEF IND IMP around.
Reverse : SIX PENCE within a wreath, crown above, date below

Edward VII - 1902 to 1910

There are no particularly rare dates in this series. The SIX PENCE reverse was continued with.

Reverse : SIX PENCE within a wreath, crown above, date below

George V - 1911 to 1927, First Design

A new design with a lion surmounting a crown was issued. The silver content was reduced from 92.5% to 50% in 1920. Telling the difference comes from experience, as the hardness of the metal changed making the strike look slightly different.

Obverse : Head left, GEORGIVS V DEI GRA BRITT OMN REX around. The head was modified during 1926.
Reverse : Lion on crown, dividing the date, FID DEF IND IMP above, SIX PENCE below.

George V - 1927 to 1936, Second Design

Another new design with six oak sprigs and acorns came out in proof sets dated 1927, and was issued for circulation from 1928 to 1936. There are no scarce dates.

Obverse : Modified head left, GEORGIVS V D G BRITT OMN REX F D IND IMP around.
Reverse : Oak sprig with six acorns, SIXPENCE above, A date D below

George VI - 1937 to 1948, First Design

This first design shows the initials GRI (Georgius Rex Imperator) surmounted by a crown. The metal used to strike the sixpence was originally an alloy containing 50% silver. However, in 1947 the metal was changed to cupronickel, an alloy of copper and nickel containing no silver.

Obverse : Head left, GEORGIVS VI D G BR OMN REX around.
Reverse : Crowned GRI dividing date. FID DEF IND IMP above, SIXPENCE below

George VI - 1949 to 1952, Second Design

In 1949 the initials were changed to GVIR and the inscription IND IMP was removed as the King was no longer Emperor of India.

Obverse : Head left, GEORGIVS VI D G BR OMN REX around, as before.
Reverse : Crowned GVIR dividing date. FID DEF above, SIXPENCE below

Because of the Korean War, which created a demand for nickel, no cupronickel coins were struck for circulation in the UK dated 1952. However, a relatively small number (1,013,477) of sixpences of that date were struck for use in the West Indies, and coins of that date were only occasionally found in circulation in the UK.

Elizabeth II - 1953 to 1967, one reverse design only

Obverse 1 : Head right, ELIZABETH II DEI GRATIA BRITT OMN REGINA around (1953 only).
Obverse 2 : More deeply engraved head right, ELIZABETH II DEI GRATIA REGINA around (1954 onwards).
Reverse : Garland with rose, thistle, shamrock and leek, FID DEF above, SIXPENCE date below.

The last date of issue for circulation was 1967. A 1970 proof was issued in 'Last Lsd' sets, and at least one such set is known with a 1967 proof in error. There are minor obverse differences to be found on 1964 and 1965 coins, and minor reverse differences amongst 1955 sixpences.

The sixpence continued in use for some time after decimalisation in 1971, valued at 2.5 new pence. It was especially useful for parking meters and on the London Underground, but inflation and a lack of encouragement in its use led to it being finally demonetised at the end of June 1980.


See my Main Coins Index page for acknowledgements


The Fourpence or Groat <<-- : -->> The Shilling
Main History Index.
Values of Sixpence.
Values Index.
Pictures of Sixpence 1551-1800.
Pictures of Sixpence 1800-1970.
Pictures Index.

Help and Advice

Coins of the UK - Sixpence
Copyright reserved by the author, Tony Clayton
v36 13th April 2017
Valid HTML 4.01 Transitional