The Royal Mint’s pre-decimal coin set – nostalgia for a coin called 'bob'

03 Aug 2015

The Royal Mint is to conjure up memories of a time when pockets across Britain held coins with nicknames such as ‘bob’ and ‘tanner’, with the release of the Pre-Decimal Collection featuring vintage coins issued between 1937 and 1967.

The Royal Mint has been making coinage for the kings and queens of Britain for over 1,000 years, and the pounds, shillings and pence of pre-decimal times belonged to a currency system that had been running for centuries. That was to change with the nationwide decimalisation programme of 1971, when these familiar coins were replaced by millions of new decimal coins produced at The Royal Mint’s purpose built new premises in Llantrisant, South Wales.

The Royal Mint’s Pre-Decimal Collection contains favourites such as the penny, which was used to pay for anything from stamps (the ‘penny’ black) to seaside pier amusement machines from 1860 right up to decimalisation. The farthing, with its image of a wren, was more likely to end up in a piggy bank due to its small dimensions.

The distinctive 12-sided shape of the brass threepenny bit made it easier to distinguish by feel in wartime blackouts, whilst the frequent shortage of the ‘bob’ or shilling in winter was attributed to its use in ‘modern’ meters, bringing heat to post-war homes.  The half-crown, at 12.5 pence is the largest coin in the collection, and any child receiving it as a gift from family members would have considered them generous relatives indeed.

From the pennies that were in circulation in Queen Victoria’s reign, to the post-1953 coins portraying Mary Gillick’s celebrated likeness of the young Queen Elizabeth, the British public’s affection for its currency has given rise to many sayings and nicknames. ‘Turning on a sixpence’ and ‘a penny for your thoughts’ remain in use today, whilst the first bicycle, created in the 1880s, was known affectionately as the ‘penny farthing’ due to the fact that there was a difference in size between its front and back wheel – like the two coins in its name.

Coins have long been at the heart of traditions, not least the silver sixpence or ‘tanner’. No Christmas pudding would be complete without a ‘lucky’ silver sixpence, whilst for centuries, fathers have been giving their daughters a silver sixpence on their wedding day to wear in their left shoe to wish them health and prosperity for their married life ahead. The original rhyme, ‘Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue, and a silver sixpence in her shoe’ has been passed down from generation to generation.  

The coins of today continue to be miniature works of art that mark historic moments and significant events of our time, and there are signs that the public is as fond of its coinage as ever, with new nicknames such as ‘quid’ for the £1 coin. There will always be a romantic nostalgia, however, for a time when it was possible to find the portraits of up to five different monarchs in a handful of change, and coins were known affectionately as ‘thruppence’ or ‘tanner’, or ‘bob’.

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