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A shilling is an old English denomination of coin. It was one twelfth of a pound, or twelve old pence. Two shillings therefore equalled twenty-four old pence, or a tenth of a pound.
The 2 Shilling coin was more commonly known as a florin, and is generally regarded as the first pre-decimal coin to be issued in the mid-nineteenth century. With a value of one-tenth of a pound sterling, it is the exact equivalent to the current ten pence coin.
A shilling was popularly referred to as a ‘bob’; and a two shilling coin was then colloquially called a 'two bob bit'.
There was a very early gold double florin, issued during the reign of Edward III in the 14th century. It is also known as a double Leopard. This was an attempt to emulate the French florin, which had its origins in Italian 13th century coins. These English coins were never accepted for trading, and were withdrawn within months. It is believed only three, extremely valuable, examples exist today.
2 Shilling coin
The pre-decimal 2 shilling coin was issued in 1849, as a result of campaigning by Sir John Bowring MP, KCB. He later became governor of Hong Kong.
Bowring held strong beliefs in the merits of free trade. He is quoted as saying, 'Jesus Christ is free trade and free trade is Jesus Christ’. This conviction led him to advocate the United Kingdom to follow other nations and convert to a decimal currency.
Russia had introduced the first decimal currency in 1704, with the Ruble equalling 100 Kopeks. France followed, in 1795, replacing the ‘Livre Tournois’ with the Franc. The Netherlands decimalised in 1817, Sweden in 1855, the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1857 and Spain in 1868.
As a result of Bowring's campaign, the silver florin coin was issued in 1849. It was a tenth of a pound, and seen as a possible first step toward a British decimal currency. It was not based on the early English gold florin, but on the Dutch and Austrian florins. The obverse inscription read ‘one tenth of a pound’.
It continued to be minted as a two shilling coin until 1967, until finally being withdrawn and replaced with the current 10 pence coin. This followed the UK’s eventual adoption of a decimal currency in 1971.
The Godless Florin
It has been common practice for UK coins to carry the inscription 'Dei Gratia Regina'.
This is commonly abbreviated to 'D. G. Regina'. It translates from Latin to, 'By the grace of God, Queen'. Similarly, 'Dei Gratia Rex' translates to 'By the Grace of God, King'.
The first florin (two shilling) coin, introduced in 1849, was met with shock and anger for not carrying the motto. This earned it the nickname of the 'Godless' Florin, and is one of the most popular florins amongst collectors today.
The 1849 Florin omitted the ‘Dei Gratia’ inscription. This earned it the nickname of the ‘Godless’ Florin.
The 'Godless' florin was silver, weighed 11.3 grams, and had a diameter of 28 millimetres. On the
(tails) it showed national emblems in each quarter, and the inscription ‘one tenth of a pound’.
The changing florin
A revised florin was struck in 1851. It still weighed 11.3 grams, but the diameter was increased to 30mm. The inscription was also revised to read, 'Victoria Dei Gratia Britannia Regina Fidei Defensor'. This translates to 'Victoria by the Grace of God Queen of Britain Defender of the Faith'. This coin, with minor changes, continued to be minted until Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee, in 1887.
The Jubilee Florin featured a new portrait of the Queen on the obverse (heads) which became known as the 'Jubilee Head'. On the reverse, the reference to 'one tenth of a pound' was omitted, and the national emblem design was updated.
In 1891 the diameter of the florin was reduced once more to 28.5mm.
With the accession of Edward VII, the reverse was totally revised, but the weight and size remained unchanged. This revised florin showed an unusual depiction of a standing and wind-swept Britannia on the reverse. The inscription read, 'One Florin' on one side and 'Two Shillings' on the other, with the year at the bottom.
The unusual Britannia image on the reverse of Edward VII florin.
The Royal Mint prepared to strike an Edward VIII florin, but none were minted. The plans were however, used for the George VI florins. These returned to previous designs, and echoed those of Queen Victoria's reign.
In the reign of Queen Elizabeth II, a new Tudor Rose image was used on the reverse. This continued to be used until 1967 when the florin was eventually replaced.
Elizabeth II Florin or two shilling with reverse Tudor Rose.
In 1968, before decimalisation, a decimal ten pence coin, identical in size and weight to the florin, was released. This and the florin continued to be accepted as currency after decimalisation in 1971. It was not until 1993 that a new and smaller 10p coin replaced both the florin and original 10p coins.
The current 10p is 4mm smaller and nearly 5g lighter than the two shilling and old 10p coins which it replaced.