Sixpence and Farthing

Sixpence and Farthing

Before our coinage went decimal in 1971 we had the most wonderful, complex, yet easily understood (by us) system of money. Every coin had at least one name, some coins had a number of names. Bank notes were large and they too had nicknames.



The old, pre-decimal Sixpenny piece or sixpence. This coin was mentioned in many children’s nursery rhymes.

Sing a song of sixpence, 
A pocket full of rye,
Four and twenty blackbirds
Baked in a pie.
When the pie was opened,
The birds began to sing.
Wasn’t that a dainty dish
To set before a king? 



The farthing was one-quarter of a penny. In Victorian times or earlier, young girls would sing this song in London to sell their buttons:

Buttons, a farthing a pair!
Come, who will buy them of me?
They’re round and sound and pretty,
And fit for girls of the city.
Come, who will buy them of me?
Buttons, a farthing a pair! 

One Penny


Simple Simon met a pieman
Going to the fair;
Says Simple Simon to the pieman,
“Let me taste your ware.”
Says the pieman to Simple Simon,
“Show me first your penny.”
Says Simple Simon to the pieman,
“Indeed, I have not any.” 

Half Crown


We lost all these interesting coins and names when we went to decimal coinage in 1971. The silver coloured coin shown above is the “Half Crown” which was worth a ¼ of a pound (£1). Now its value is about £44! (See

The Old System

“12 pence to the shilling and 20 shillings to the pound.”

Value of Coins:
4 farthings = 1 penny (1d.)  “a copper”
2 ha’pence = 1 penny (1d.) 
3 pence = 1 thruppence (3d.) 
6 pence = 1 sixpence (6d.) “a tanner”
12 pence = 1 shilling (1s.) “a bob”
2 shillings = 1 florin (2s.) “a two bob bit”
2 shillings and 6 pence = 1 half-crown (2s. 6d.)
5 shillings = 1 Crown
20 Shillings = 1 Pound “a quid” or  “a Sovereign”
21 Shillings = 1 Guinea

Values were generally expressed as £.s.d., or l.s.d., as in £7 5s. 6d., £7/5/6 or seven pounds, five shillings and sixpence.

Did you know?

The pound sign stands for Libra, a pound weight in Latin; the s. is an abbreviation for shilling in English, and the d. stands for denarius or denarii (a Roman coin).

I remember from my childhood days in Hertfordshire farmers and visitors were known as “sovs” or “half sovs”. These names referred to the tips they gave to beaters, loaders and gamekeepers after a day’s shooting. A rich or generous visitor from London would be labelled a “sov” as he would give a gold sovereign coin to his loader.

So, do you have some old sixpence, shillings and half crowns stashed away in boxes or bottles? They might be worth rather more than you thought. Check the BNTA site for more information!

Genuine Bank of England notes that have been withdrawn from circulation keep their face value for all time and can be exchanged fee-free at the Bank of England in Threadneedle Street, London (open Monday to Friday, 9am-3pm) in person or by post.

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