The sixpence was first struck in 1551 during the reign of Edward VI, owing to the debasement of Britain’s silver coinage during the 1540s, particularly the testoon. The precursor to the shilling had seen its value halved from twelve pence to six. The sixpence quickly established itself as a popular fixture of Britain’s coinage, acquiring the nickname ‘tanner’, and in more superstitious times became a symbol of good fortune. Tucked in the bride’s shoe come wedding day, served up in a slice of Christmas pudding or given as a christening gift – the notion of a lucky sixpence has become embedded in British tradition.
Sixpences were minted during the reign of every subsequent monarch. Such a popular coin comes in many different variations and, as a mainstay of British currency for so long, has acquired a special place in the public’s affections. One of the most popular of the pre-decimal coins, when the switchover to decimal currency came in 1968, many people were disappointed that no place could be found for it as part of the new coinage. Sixpences didn’t disappear immediately though, and were finally demonetised twelve years later in 1980. Here you can find a selection of historic sixpences originally struck for circulation.