Old Money

by Graham Kirby

T he trolley was heavily laid down with bags full of brass thruppenny bits (three-pence pieces), silver-coloured sixpences, bronze pennies and two shillings — it was not easy to pull it along in a busy high street even with a colleague pushing from the rear. At the same time as pushing and pulling, both of us kept checking that no bags or coins fell on the way. That day, we were taking the money to a competitor's bank which was running low on its supply of hard cash.

Back in the 1960s, a one-penny coin measured 31 millimetres in diameter and weighed 10 grams. Before we decimalised in 1971, twelve pennies (12 pence) made up a shilling, and twenty shillings made a pound. Hence 240 pence was the equivalent in monetary value of a one-pound banknote. There were no pound coins then, pound coins were not introduced in this country until 1983. Each of our 1960's cloth bags held the worth of five pounds, that's the equivalent of 1,200 pennies, or, in weight: 12 kilograms —the same as a dozen 2lb bags of sugar!

A trip to open up a small sub-office in the morning involved having a large suitcase of cash double-strapped to one wrist, while in our other hand we held a bank truncheon (a rounded heavy stick) to stave off attackers. We'd frequently travel in a local taxi where our usual driver, a portly gentleman I recall, would drive us very slowly while he smoked his pipe. We'd telephone the main branch to report we had arrived safely at our destination — having survived both attackers and the smoke!

Everyday use for coins back then was to feed a pay-as-you-go gas meter built into many homes. Most of these locked metal boxes were fed with shillings, and so it was essential to keep a well-stocked supply of these coins at home to ensure the heating stayed on. These meters would be emptied regularly and it was customary for people to buy-back from their meter-man (only men held that job in our area) the same set of coins they would empty, for re-use. Some would have been older, special specimens set aside to keep, but when the lights went out any coin would do in the rush to restore power. Sometimes on collection day the coins were exchanged for banknotes by mistake.

Ultimately coin bags of meter shillings would be paid in over the sub-office counter. As a cashier in the 1960's I was then able to discover shillings dating back to the new coinage (1816-1820) of George third and those of Queen Victoria struck with 'young head', 'jubilee head' or 'veiled head'.

There were Florins to be found of Edward VII, one pictured below, depicting Britannia standing - turned half-right towards us - holding an upright trident with an oval-shaped shield displaying the Union Jack, with the choppy waves of the sea behind her. She wears a Roman crested helmet, and her cloak stands out as if windswept.

A Florin of Edward VII

They say the model for Britannia was Lady Susan Hicks-Beach, the second daughter of the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, Sir Michael Hicks-Beach. The legend on this coin, dated on the ship's prow 1903, is 'ONE FLORIN TWO SHILLINGS'. To my mind, this coin by G.W. De Saulles is a beautiful piece of art which epitomizes the elegance of the Edwardian age.

Britannia, modelled by Lady Susan Hicks-Beach.

The collecting of old money really began, when in 1966, a young bank cashier became attracted to the coins in the till.

SEE ALSO by Graham Kirby:
• A Pocket Full of Change
• Lockdown Medal
• Old Money

Graham Kirby is a resident of Kidlington village, Oxfordshire.

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