AskDefine | Define sixpence

Dictionary Definition

sixpence n : a small coin of the United Kingdom worth six pennies; not minted since 1970 [syn: tanner]

User Contributed Dictionary




  1. obsolete UK A coin worth six old pennies; a tanner.
    Have you gor two sixpences for a shilling?
  2. obsolete UK The value of six old pennies.
    Finest Apple's sixpence each.

Derived terms

Extensive Definition

The sixpence, known colloquially as the tanner or half-shilling, was a British pre-decimal coin, worth, as the name indicates, six pence.
In England, the first sixpences were struck in the reign of Edward VI in 1551 and continued until they were rendered obsolete by decimalisation in 1971. Along with the shilling (12 pence) and the florin (or two shillings), the last general issue sixpence was issued in 1967 and a special proof version struck for inclusion in the farewell proof set of 1970. However, sixpences, shillings and florins continued to be legal tender at values of 2½, 5 and 10 new pence respectively.
Sixpences were originally supposed to be demonetized upon decimalization in 1971. However, due to public outcry, they remained legal tender until 1980. As time went on, though, and the inflation of the 1970s eroded the value and utility of the coin, only banks were likely to readily accept them. The silver content followed the pattern of other silver coins. They were sterling silver until 1920, when they were reduced to 50 percent silver. The last 50-percent-silver sixpence was minted in 1946; they were changed to cupro-nickel from 1947 onwards.
As the supply of silver thruppeny bits (see threepence) slowly disappeared, sixpences replaced them as the coins that were put into Christmas puddings and children would hope to be the lucky one to find the sixpence, no doubt also encouraging children to eat their pudding.
They have also been seen as a lucky charm for brides. There is an old rhyme which goes "Something old, something new, Something borrowed, something blue, And a sixpence for her shoe."
The folk song "I've Got Sixpence" was written of this coin. I've got sixpence. Jolly, jolly sixpence. I've got sixpence to last me all my life. I've got twopence to spend and twopence to lend And twopence to send home to my wife - poor wife. The singer tells the tale of spending twopence (per verse) until he has "nopence to send home to my wife - poor wife."
Similarly, in A Midsummer Night's Dream (Act 4, Scene 2), we learn that by his absence (ensorcelled in Titania's bower), Bottom the Weaver will forego sixpence a day for life from the Duke. In Elizabethan times, the sixpence was roughly a day's wage for rustic labor in the provinces. With it, one might buy two dinners, six performances of Hamlet among the groundlings at the Globe theater, or an unbound copy of the play itself.
Brian May, guitar player from British band Queen, uses a sixpence instead of a normal plectrum to play his guitar.

External links

  • British Coins - Free information about British coins. Includes an online forum.
sixpence in German: Sixpence
sixpence in Scottish Gaelic: Bonn-a-sia
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