Early Silver Penny in Great Britain

Posted by on April 26, 2012
SC UK Roman 200 BC 300x97 Early Silver Penny in Great Britain

200 BC cir. Roman Silver Denarius found in England

The oldest found Early Silver Penny in Great Britain is actually not British, but an old Roman coin minted before 200 BC.  The Celts had an extensive trade network, which is a possible explanation; however Roman explores had sailed to the British island centuries before the Roman colonization of Britannia.  Silver had been used for currency in Great Britain since then until 1948, when rising silver prices made silver unsuitable for currency.  1947 was the last year silver was used, by Great Britain, in coins for circulation.

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Early Silver Penny in Great Britain around 60 BC were cast by the Celts and called “Staters”.  These were minted about three decades after the first cast coins, called “Potins”.  Potins are cast with a type of bronze alloy consisting of: copper, tin, zinc, and lead.  Staters display the highly stylized Celtic designs usually depicting their king or a flora pattern on the obverse, and horse motif or sometimes a wolf (fauna) on the reverse.

The Early Silver Penny in Great Britain went from being cast, to being hammer struck coins by the time Rome invaded in 43 AD.  Roman silver “Denarius” replaced the Celt’s silver Staters before the Romans left around 450 AD.

SC UK Viking King Cnut 9AD York 300x157 Early Silver Penny in Great Britain

9 AD cir. York minted silver coin Viking King Cnut

During the several decades following the Romans leaving Britannia, bartering became the principle means of trade. It was not until after the Anglo and Saxon had become established in Britain that the Viking colonies started minting coins in York around 600 AD.  The Anglo-Saxons didn’t begin striking coins until around 675 AD.  The Anglo-Saxon silver coin is called a “Sceatta” and weighs about 16 grains, which is about one gram.

SC UK King Offa Silver Penny 168x300 Early Silver Penny in Great Britain

600 AD cir. King Offa Silver Penny

The silver “Penny” replaced the Sceatta when King Offa of Mercia and the King of Kent started minting them in London and Canterbury respectively.  The silver Penny is the longest-lived coin ever struck.  The silver penny was inspired by and corresponds to the Franks’ “Denier”, which were first struck by Charlemagne around 755 AD.  The denier was larger, thinner, and heavier, weighing about 1.3 grams, than the Scatta.  The denier was derived from the Roman denarius and the reason why “d” is used as the abbreviation for penny.

These Early Silver Penny in Great Britain are usually of the finest purity of silver possible for the time. Instead of having an abbreviation for the location of the mint, the 'mint make' is actually of the moneyers' (a person skilled, employed/authorized to coin money) abbreviated name.

In 1154 King Henry II noticed the quality of silver alloy, weight, and strikes of the penny had waned.  He put the moneyers throughout Great Britain to work on the massive re-coinage.  Thirty-one mints were used at the time and even though the fineness and weights held, the quality of many of the strikes were still poor and all but twelve were closed.  In 1180 introduced the silver “Short Cross penny” named after its reverse design.  The Small Cross design persisted for nearly seventy years which is the longest single design that has been used for any of Great Britain’s coins.

SC UK King Henry II Penny 300x152 Early Silver Penny in Great Britain

1180 cir. King Henry II Silver Penny small cross

In the middle of King Henry III’s reign, 1247, he had the silver penny reverse design changed to the “Long Cross”, with the cross extending to the edge of the coin in order to discourage unscrupulous people from clipping silver from the perimeter of the coins.  At this stage Great Britain was only using silver penny and the cross allowed these pennies to easily cut.  Those cut in half are called “haflings” and into quarters as “feorthings” which became farthings.

Later in 1266 Henry III established the “Tower Pound”, named after the Tower Hill mint in London.  One Pound = 12 ounces = 5400 grains.  This standard was used in Great Britain until 1527.  The monetary pound was then set to one Tower pound of sterling silver, which is 92.5% silver, or “pound sterling”.  The addition of copper to silver strengthens the silver and produces a more durable coin.  The Tower pound was still only a book-keeping convention.  The Early Silver Penny in Great Britain had been the only coin used on the British Island since the Romans left and that was about to change.

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