The sixpence coin, also known as a 'tanner' or 'sixpenny bit', was a silver British coin originally worth six pence, or 1/40 of a Pound. First introduced in 1551, the sixpence coin would continue to be issued until decimalisation in 1971.
With a history spanning over 500 years, no silver coin collection would be complete without the sixpence.
Sixpence coins were first minted in 1551, while Edward VI was King. Silver had been debased during the reign of his father, King Henry VIII, and the silver testoon in particular found its value halved. The testoon being valued at six pence however proved useful and popular. When the testoon was restored to its original value during the reign of Elizabeth I, it was renamed as the shilling. The debased version of the testoon was then worth six pence, and would be officially adopted as that coin.
The 'tanner' nickname is believed to have originated from the 18th Century. The Royal Mint employed a new Chief Engraver, named John Sigismund Tanner who designed several issues of the sixpence coin.
Having been produced over the following 400 years, the silver sixpence coin has been minted in a number of purities, including Sterling (925) and debased (500) fineness. The debasement took place in 1920 and sixpence coins from that year were produced in both purities. After the second world war, gold and silver were no longer used for circulating currency, and the sixpence was produced instead using cupronickel.
Following the decimalisation of Britain’s currency in the 1971, the sixpence remained in circulation for another nine years until 1980. As part of the decimal system, the sixpence had a somewhat confusing value of 2.5 pence.
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