An Introduction to the Sixpence



The size of a sixpence between 1816 and 1967 compared with the present-day five-pence coin

The English sixpence was first minted in 1551 during the reign of Edward VI and was struck during the reign of every monarch (except Edward VIII in 1936) and during the Commonwealth (1649-1660). It was last minted for circulation in 1967 (although a proof edition was minted for collectors in 1970). Before decimalisation in 1971 there were 240 pennies in the pound. A shilling was twelve pennies and twenty shillings made a pound. The sixpence (half a shilling) was therefore equivalent to 1/40th of a pound.

The sixpence, affectionaly nicknamed a “tanner,” remained in circulation after 1971 with the value of 2½ new pence. It could often be found in one’s change until 1980, when it was finally withdrawn.

For centuries, the penny denomination was written or printed as “1d”, the “d” being an abreviation of “denarius”, the Latin for penny. Six pence would be expressed as “6d”. Eighteen pennies (three sixpences) would be written as “1’6” or “1/6” (one shilling and sixpence); in speech, this amount would be refererred to simply as “one-and-six”. The term, “silver sixpence,” is now often used to describe the colour of the coin, rather than the type of metal from which it is minted. From the great recoinage of 1816 until 1967, the size and weight of the sixpence remained the same: a diameter of 19.4mm and 2.83 grams. Between 1816 and 1920 the silver content was 92.5% (sterling silver). Sixpences dated from 1920 to 1946 have a silver content of 50% and those minted from 1947 have no silver, being made of an alloy of copper and nickel.

Sixpences from 1831 to 1967
Obverse Queen Victoria Sixpence Young Head
"Young Head"
Obverse Queen Victoria Sixpence Jubilee Head
"Jubilee Head"
Obverse Queen Victoria Sixpence Veiled Head
"Veiled Head"
Obverse King Edward VII Sixpence

Edward VII

Obverse King George V Sixpence

George V

Obverse King George VI Sixpence

George VI

Obverse Queen Elizabeth II Sixpence

Elizabeth II

Reverse of Sixpences 1816-1910
Reverse 1887 Sixpence
1887 only
Reverse King George V Sixpence 1911-1928
Reverse, King George V Sixpence (1928-1936)
Reverse, King George VI Sixpence (1937-1948)
Reverse King George VI Sixpence (1949-1952)
Reverse Queen Elizabeth II Sixpence
Reading the Legend on a Sixpence

As with all British coins, the legend around the monarch’s effigy (head) is in Latin. Over the years there have been minor variations  but the legend on British coins today is very similar to those of two hundred years ago: they all bear the monarch’s name and their titles.

Take, for example, this 1928 sixpence. First, there is the king’s name in Latin, “GEORGIVS V.” Next there is “D.G.”, an abreviation of “Dei Gratia,” or “by the grace of God.” There then follows “BRITT: OMN: REX,” an abbreviation of “Britanniarum Omnium Rex,” or “King of all the Britons.” Whereas the inscriptions for male monarchs have “Rex,” the Latin for “King,” the inscription for a female monarch would be “Regina,” often abbreviated to “REG.” “F.D.” or sometimes, “FID DEF” is an abbreviation of “Fidei Defensor,” or Defender of the Faith. Between 1893 and 1948 there also appeared “IND IMP,” an abbreviation of Indiae Imperator / Imperatrix or Emperor / Empress of India.

The Irish Sixpence
For centuries the UK sixpence circulated in the island until Home Rule in 1922. The Irish sixpence (or reul) is 1.5 mm larger and 60 per cent heavier than its UK counterpart and were minted in most years from 1928 to 1969. Coins dated 1928-1937 bear the name, Saorstát Éireann (Irish Free State) and those from 1938 bear the name of the republic, Eire. Pre-decimal coins had the national symbol, the harp, on the obverse whilst the reverse depicted animals of importance to the island; on the sixpence it was the Irish wolfhound. The coin was minted in far fewer numbers than the UK sixpence; it was withdrawn from circulation in 1971.