Great Recoinage of 1816

The Great Recoinage of 1816 was an attempt by the British Government to re-stabilise the currency of Great Britain following economic difficulties precipitated by the French Revolutionary Wars and the Napoleonic Wars.[1]

A Bull Head George half crown dating from 1816.
Benedetto Pistrucci's St. George design


The French Revolutionary Wars (1792-1802) and the Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815) led to financial instability in Britain. This was due to direct military and economic warfare against France as well as Britain's financing of a series of coalitions opposed to the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic regimes. In exchange for large cash subsidies from Britain, nations such as Austria, Prussia and Russia, with armies larger than Britain's, were paid to fight against France. The economic conflicts of that era (such as Napoleon's Continental System and Britain's retaliatory measures against it) especially disrupted trade and the availability of markets in Europe for the products of Britain's growing mercantile and colonial empires. A shortage of silver and copper led to a shortage of coins. Paper money became legal in 1797[2] and local tokens were produced by companies and banks all over the country. Despite an increase in trade, the national debt had increased by 100% by the start of the 19th century. A series of bad harvests pushed up food prices and this culminated in riots in 1801–2.

Corn prices halved at the end of the wars, when trade with Europe resumed. The Corn Laws of 1815 were intended to protect the price of domestic grain, but this only served to keep prices high and depressed the domestic market for manufactured goods, because people had to use all their money to buy food.[3] Likewise, European countries which relied on exporting corn to Britain in order to buy British manufactured goods were no longer able to do so.

The government needed to find a way to stabilise the currency, and the Great Recoinage was the first step in this process. The main aims were the reintroduction of a silver coinage and a change in the gold coinage from the guinea valued at 21 shillings to the slightly lighter sovereign worth 20 shillings.[4] The value of the shilling remained unchanged at twelve pence.[5]

This massive recoinage programme by the Royal Mint created standard gold sovereigns and circulating crowns and half-crowns containing the now famous image of St. George & the Dragon by the Italian engraver Benedetto Pistrucci[6] and eventually copper farthings in 1821. Pistrucci's initial portrait of the King has become known to collectors as the "bull-head George".


The weight of the new gold sovereigns was calculated on the basis that the value of one troy pound of standard (22 carat) gold was £46 14s 6d. Sovereigns therefore in theory weighed 123.2744783 grains or 7.988030269 grams, although this implies much more precision than it was possible to achieve with the technology of the time. This standard persists to the present day, more than two centuries later. To put a gold standard into effect, and avoid the pitfalls of bimetallism, silver coins were declared legal tender only for sums of money up to £2.

The recoinage of silver in England after a long drought produced a burst of coins: the mint struck nearly 40 million shillings between 1816 and 1820, 17 million half-crowns and 1.3 million silver crowns.[7]

The value of one troy pound (weighing 5760 grains) of standard (0.925 fine) silver was fixed by coining it into 66 shillings (or its equivalent in other denominations). This established the weight of all silver coins (and their cupro-nickel successors), and their decimal new pence replacements, from 1816 until the 1990s, when new smaller coins were introduced.

The silver coins initially produced were shillings weighing 87.2727 grains (or 5.655 grams), half-crowns of 218.1818 grains (14.138 grams) and crowns of 436.3636 grains (28.276 grams). Over the many reigns until decimalisation other denominations came and went, such as the threepence, sixpence, florin, and double florin, always weighing exactly one troy pound per 66 shillings (irrespective of fineness, which was reduced to 50% in 1920, and to 0% in 1947). This made 5 sterling silver shillings (which is 1 crown), about the weight of .9091 troy ounce of sterling silver.

See also


  1. ^ A New history of the Royal Mint. Christopher Edgar Challis
  2. ^ Paper against gold, or, the mystery of the Bank of England. William Cobbett. 1846.
  3. ^ Bright, J. and Thorold Rogers, J.E. (eds.) [1870](1908) Speeches on Questions of Public Policy by Richard Cobden, M.P., Vol. 1, London: T. Fisher Unwin, republished as Cobden, R. (1995), London: Routledge/Thoemmes, ISBN 0-415-12742-4
  4. ^ The British almanac. Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge (Great Britain) 1856
  5. ^ The Coinage of Britain. Ken Elks
  6. ^ A New history of the Royal Mint. Christopher Edgar Challis
  7. ^ Report from the Select Committee on the Royal Mint: together with the minutes of evidence, appendix and index, Volume 2 (Great Britain. Committee on Royal Mint, 1849), p. 172.
Army Long Service and Good Conduct Medal

The Army Long Service and Good Conduct Medal was instituted by King William IV in 1830. The medal remained in use for 100 years, until it was replaced by the Medal for Long Service and Good Conduct (Military) in 1930. During that time the reverse of the medal remained virtually unchanged, while the design of the obverse was altered during the reigns of Queen Victoria, King Edward VII and King George V.

Benedetto Pistrucci

Benedetto Pistrucci (29 May 1783 – 16 September 1855) was an Italian gem-engraver, medallist and coin engraver, probably best known for his Saint George and the Dragon design for the British sovereign coin. Pistrucci was commissioned by the British government to create the large Waterloo Medal, a project which took him thirty years to complete.

Born in Rome in 1783, Pistrucci studied briefly with other artists before striking out on his own at age 15. He became prominent as a cameo carver and was patronised by royalty. In 1815, he moved to Britain, where he would live for most of the rest of his life. His talent brought him to the attention of notables including William Wellesley-Pole, the Master of the Mint. Pole engaged Pistrucci to design new coinage, including the sovereign, which was first issued in 1817 to mixed reactions. Although Pole probably promised Pistrucci the post of Chief Engraver, the position could not be awarded as only a British subject could hold it. This slight became a long-term grievance for Pistrucci.

Talented but temperamental, Pistrucci refused to copy the work of other artists. When in 1823 George IV demanded that an unflattering portrait of him on the coinage be changed with a new likeness to be based on the work of Francis Chantrey, Pistrucci refused and was nearly sacked. The Mint did not dismiss him, lest the money already spent on the Waterloo Medal be wasted. Pistrucci kept his place with the Mint for the rest of his life, eventually completing the Waterloo Medal in 1849, though because of its great size it could not be struck. After Pistrucci's death, the George and Dragon design was restored to the sovereign coin, and is still used today.

Coinage Act 1816

The Coinage Act 1816 (56 Geo. III c.68), also known as Liverpool's Act, defined the value of the pound sterling relative to gold. One troy pound of standard (22-carat) gold was defined as equivalent to £46 14s 6d., i.e. 44½ guineas, the guinea having been fixed in December 1717 at £1 1s exactly. According to its preamble, the purposes of the Act were to:

prohibit the use of silver coins (which would now be of reduced weight, 66 shillings rather than 62 shillings per troy pound), for transactions larger than 40s

establish a single gold standard for transactions of all sizes.

Great Recoinage

The Great Recoinage may refer to either of the following events in the history of British coinage.

The Great Recoinage of 1696, which was conducted to address problems with the silver coins then in currency, such as clipping and arbitrage.

The Great Recoinage of 1816, which reintroduced silver coinage for values up to £2 and replaced the Guinea with the Sovereign.

Great Recoinage of 1696

The Great Recoinage of 1696 was an attempt by the English Government under King William III to replace the hammered silver that made up most of the coinage in circulation, much of it being clipped and badly worn.

Guinea (coin)

The guinea was a coin of approximately one quarter ounce of gold that was minted in Great Britain between 1663 and 1814. The name came from the Guinea region in West Africa, where much of the gold used to make the coins originated. It was the first English machine-struck gold coin, originally worth one pound sterling, equal to twenty shillings, but rises in the price of gold relative to silver caused the value of the guinea to increase, at times to as high as thirty shillings. From 1717 to 1816, its value was officially fixed at twenty-one shillings.

When Britain adopted the gold standard the guinea became a colloquial or specialised term. Although the coin itself no longer circulated, the term guinea survived as a unit of account in some fields. Notable usages included professional fees (medical, legal etc), which were often invoiced in guineas, and horse racing and greyhound racing, and the sale of rams. In each case a guinea meant an amount of one pound and one shilling (21 shillings), or one pound and five pence (£1.05) in decimalised currency. The name also forms the basis for the Arabic word for the Egyptian pound الجنيه el-Genēh / el-Geni, as a sum of 100 qirsh (one pound) was worth approximately 21 shillings at the end of the 19th century.

Half guinea

The half guinea gold coin of the Kingdom of England and later of Great Britain was first produced in 1669, some years after the Guinea entered circulation. It was officially eliminated in the Great Recoinage of 1816, although, like the guinea, it was used in quoting prices until decimalisation.

History of the British farthing

The British farthing (derived from the Anglo-Saxon feorthing, a fourthling or fourth part) was a British coin worth a quarter of an old penny (​1⁄960 of a pound sterling). It ceased to be struck after 1956 and was demonetised from 1 January 1961.

The British farthing is a continuation of the English farthing, struck by English monarchs prior to the Act of Union 1707, which unified the crowns of England and Scotland into the Kingdom of Great Britain. Only pattern farthings were struck under Queen Anne as there was a glut of farthings from previous reigns. The coin was struck intermittently under George I and George II, but by the reign of George III, counterfeits were so prevalent the Royal Mint ceased striking copper coinage after 1775. The next farthings were the first struck by steam power, in 1799 by Matthew Boulton at his Soho Mint under licence. Boulton coined more in 1806, and the Royal Mint resumed production in 1821. The farthing was struck fairly regularly under George IV and William IV. By then it carried a scaled-down version of the penny's design, and would continue to mirror the penny and halfpenny until after 1936.

Farthings were struck in most years of Queen Victoria's long reign. The coin continued to be issued in most years of the first half of the 20th century, and in 1937 it finally received its own reverse design, a wren. By the time the coin bore the portrait of Elizabeth II in 1953–1956, inflation had eroded its value. A fall in commercial demand also contributed to its demise.

History of the British penny (1714–1901)

The history of the penny of Great Britain and the United Kingdom from 1714 to 1901, the period in which the House of Hanover reigned, saw the transformation of the penny from a little-used small silver coin to the bronze piece recognisable to modern-day Britons. All bear the portrait of the monarch on the obverse; copper and bronze pennies have a depiction of Britannia, the female personification of Britain, on the reverse.

During most of the 18th century, the penny was a small silver coin rarely seen in circulation, and that was principally struck to be used for Maundy money or other royal charity. Beginning in 1787, the chronic shortage of good money resulted in the wide circulation of private tokens, including large coppers valued at one penny. In 1797 industrialist Matthew Boulton gained a contract to produce official pennies at his Soho Mint in Birmingham; he struck millions of pennies over the next decade. After that, it was not until 1825 that pennies were struck again for circulation, and the copper penny continued to be issued until 1860.

By the late 1850s, the state of the copper coinage was deemed unsatisfactory, with quantities of worn oversized pieces, some dating from Boulton's day, still circulating. They were replaced by lighter bronze coins beginning in 1860; the "Bun penny", named for the hairstyle of Queen Victoria on it, was issued from then until 1894. The final years of Victoria's reign saw the "Veiled head" or "Old head" pennies, which were coined from 1895 until her death in 1901.

History of the threepence

The threepence or threepenny bit was a denomination of currency used by various jurisdictions in England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales, valued at 1/80 of a pound or ¼ of a shilling until decimalisation of the pound sterling and Irish pound in 1971. It was also used in some parts of the British Empire (later known as the Commonwealth), notably Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.

Before decimalisation brought about a new currency with new coinage, the sum of three pence was pronounced variously THRUUP-ənss, THREP-, THRUP-, reflecting different pronunciations in the various regions and nations of Great Britain. Likewise, the coin was usually referred to in conversation as a THRUUP-nee, THREP-, THRUP- bit.

Indian rupee

The Indian rupee (sign: ₹; code: INR) is the official currency of India. The rupee is subdivided into 100 paise (singular paisa), though as of 2018, coins of denomination of 50 paise or half rupee is the lowest value in use. The issuance of the currency is controlled by the Reserve Bank of India. The Reserve Bank manages currency in India and derives its role in currency management on the basis of the Reserve Bank of India Act, 1934.

In 2012, a new rupee symbol '₹', was officially adopted. It was designed by D. Udaya Kumar. It was derived from the combination of the Devanagari consonant "र" (ra) and the Latin capital letter "R" without its vertical bar (similar to the R rotunda). The parallel lines at the top (with white space between them) are said to make an allusion to the tricolour Indian flag, and also depict an equality sign that symbolises the nation's desire to reduce economic disparity. The first series of coins with the new rupee symbol started in circulation on 8 July 2011. Before this India used to use Rs for plural and Re to depict one rupee.

On 8 November 2016 the Government of India announced the demonetisation of ₹500 and ₹1000 banknotes with effect from midnight of the same day, making these notes invalid. A newly redesigned series of ₹500 banknote, in addition to a new denomination of ₹2000 banknote is in circulation since 10 November 2016. ₹1000 has been suspended.On 25 August 2017, a new denomination of ₹200 banknote was added to Indian currency to fill the gap of notes due to high demand for this note after demonetisation.In July 2018, the Reserve Bank of India released the ₹100 banknote.

Royal Mint

The Royal Mint is a government-owned mint that produces coins for the United Kingdom. Operating under the name Royal Mint Ltd, the mint is a limited company that is wholly owned by Her Majesty's Treasury and is under an exclusive contract to supply all the nation's coinage. As well as minting circulating coins for use domestically and internationally, the mint also produces planchets, commemorative coins, various types of medals and precious metal bullion. The mint exports to an average of 60 countries a year, making up 70% of its total sales. Formed over 1,100 years ago, the mint was historically part of a series of mints that became centralised to produce coins for the Kingdom of England, all of Great Britain and eventually most of the British Empire. The original London mint from which the Royal Mint is the successor, was established in 886 AD and operated within the Tower of London for approximately 800 years before moving to what is now called Royal Mint Court where it remained until the 1960s. As Britain followed the rest of the world in decimalising its currency, the Mint moved from London to a new 38 acres (15 ha) plant in Llantrisant, Wales where it has remained since.

In 2009 after recommendations for the mint to be privatised the Royal Mint ceased being an executive government agency and became a state-owned company wholly owned by HM Treasury. Since then the mint has expanded its business interests by reviving its bullion trade and developing a £9 million visitor centre.


The shilling is a unit of currency formerly used in Austria, the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, United States and other British Commonwealth countries.

Currently the shilling is used as a currency in four east African countries: Kenya (Kenyan shilling), Tanzania (Tanzanian shilling), Uganda (Ugandan shilling) and Somalia (Somali shilling). It is also the proposed currency that the east African community plans to introduce (east African shilling).

The word shilling comes from old English "Scilling", a monetary term meaning twentieth of a pound, and from the Proto-Germanic root skiljaną meaning 'to separate, split, divide.' The word "Scilling" is mentioned in the earliest recorded Germanic law codes, those of Æthelberht of Kent.

Slang terms for the old shilling coins include "bob" and "hog". While the derivation of "bob" is uncertain, John Camden Hotten in his 1864 Slang Dictionary says the original version was "bobstick" and speculates that it may be connected with Sir Robert Walpole.One abbreviation for shilling is s (for solidus, see £sd). Often it was represented by a solidus symbol ("/"), which may have originally stood for a long s or ſ, thus 1/9 would be one shilling and ninepence (and equivalent to 21d; the shilling itself was equal to 12d). A price with no pence was sometimes written with a solidus and a dash: 11/–.

The solidus symbol is still used for the Kenyan shilling (one of the successors to East African shilling), rather than sh.

During the Great Recoinage of 1816, the mint was instructed to coin one troy pound (weighing 5760 grains or 373 g) of standard (0.925 fine) silver into 66 shillings, or its equivalent in other denominations. This set the weight of the shilling, and its subsequent decimal replacement 5 new pence coin, at 87.2727 grains or 5.655 grams from 1816 until 1990, when a new smaller 5p coin was introduced.

In the past, the English world has had various myths about the shilling. One myth was that it was deemed to be the value of a cow in Kent or a sheep elsewhere.

Sixpence (British coin)

The sixpence (6d; ), sometimes known as a tanner or sixpenny bit, is a coin that was worth one-fortieth of a pound sterling, or six pence. It was first minted in the reign of Edward VI and circulated until 1980. Following decimalisation in 1971 it had a value of ​2 1⁄2 new pence. The coin was made from silver from its introduction in 1551 to 1947, and thereafter in cupronickel.

Prior to Decimal Day in 1971 there were 240 pence in one pound sterling. Twelve pence made a shilling, and twenty shillings made a pound. Values less than a pound were usually written in shillings and pence, e.g. 42 old pence (​17 1⁄2p) would be three shillings and sixpence (3/6), often pronounced "three and six". Values of less than a shilling were simply written in terms of pence, e.g. eight pence would be 8d ('d' for denarius).

Sovereign (British coin)

The sovereign is a gold coin of the United Kingdom, with a nominal value of one pound sterling. Struck from 1817 until the present time, it was originally a circulating coin accepted in Britain and elsewhere in the world; it is now a bullion coin and is sometimes mounted in jewellery. In most recent years, it has borne the well-known design of Saint George and the Dragon on the reverse—the initials (B P) of the designer, Benedetto Pistrucci, may be seen to the right of the date.

The coin was named after the English gold sovereign, last minted about 1603, and originated as part of the Great Recoinage of 1816. Many in Parliament believed a one-pound coin should be issued rather than the 21-shilling (£1, 1S) guinea struck until that time. The Master of the Mint, William Wellesley Pole, had Pistrucci design the new coin, and his depiction was also used for other gold coins. Originally, the coin was unpopular as the public preferred the convenience of banknotes, but paper currency of value £1 was soon limited by law. With that competition gone, the sovereign not only became a popular circulating coin, but was used in international trade and in foreign lands, trusted as a coin containing a known quantity of gold.

The British government promoted the use of the sovereign as an aid to international trade, and the Royal Mint took steps to see that lightweight gold coins were withdrawn from circulation. From the 1850s until 1932, the sovereign was also struck at colonial mints, initially in Australia, and later in Canada, South Africa and India—they have been struck again in India since 2013 (in addition to the production in Britain by the Royal Mint) for the local market. The sovereigns issued in Australia initially carried a unique local design, but by 1887, all new sovereigns bore Pistrucci's George and Dragon design. Strikings there were so large that by 1900, about 40 per cent of the sovereigns in Britain had been minted in Australia.

With the start of the First World War in 1914, the sovereign vanished from circulation in Britain, replaced by paper money, and it did not return after the war, though issues at colonial mints continued until 1932. The coin was still used in the Middle East, and demand rose in the 1950s, which the Royal Mint eventually responded to by striking new sovereigns in 1957. It has been struck since then both as a bullion coin and, beginning in 1979, for collectors. Though the sovereign is no longer in circulation, it is still legal tender in the United Kingdom.

Threepence (British coin)

The British threepence (3d) coin, usually simply known as a threepence or threepenny bit, was a unit of currency equaling one eightieth of a pound sterling, or three old pence sterling. It was used in the United Kingdom, and earlier in Great Britain and England. Similar denominations were later used throughout the British Empire, notably in Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa.

The sum of three pence was pronounced variously THRUUP-ənss, THREP-ənss or THRUP-ənss, reflecting different pronunciations in the various regions of the United Kingdom. Likewise, the coin was often referred to in conversation as a THRUUP-nee, THREP-nee or THRUP-nee bit.

Before Decimal Day in 1971 there were two hundred and forty pence in one pound sterling. Twelve pence made a shilling, and twenty shillings made a pound. Values less than a pound were usually written in terms of shillings and pence, e.g. forty-two pence would be three shillings and six pence (3/6), pronounced "three and six". Values of less than a shilling were simply written in terms of pence, e.g. eight pence would be 8d.

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