The Two-and-a-half Pence Piece

Sixpence, which is also known as the two-and-a-half-pence peiceIt seems ridiculous, doesn’t it? I mean what can you get for 2.5p today?! But I do remember clutching my two-and-a-half pence piece in my tiny hand and going into the Co-op near the infant school to buy a pack of sherbet which was exactly 2.5p. The coin was usually referred to as a sixpence in our family (my Mum being the kind of person who resisted going decimal right through the Seventies and still works in feet and inches, pounds and ounces now). But although I called it a sixpence at home, I knew it was worth 2.5p and called it a two-and-a-half pence at school. Way to confuse a child!

The reason for this idiocy of course was the decimal change in 1971, at which time I was very small and wouldn’t have remembered the Old Money being used at all except that many of the coins were still in circulation. Originally a shilling had 12 pennies in it, and then there were twenty shillings to a pound. The idea of decimalisation was to make everything work in tens and hundreds so that the British could fit happily into Europe (and we all know that the British just *love* fitting happily into Europe). In order for this to work, if one hundred pennies were in a pound then a shilling was five pence. (I’ll go into weight and distance some other time because I’m starting to get a headache now).

Rather than minting a whole load of new coins, the original coins were ‘re-denominated’, so shillings became five pence. For me growing up, this mean that what I called the money was something different to what my Mum and Gran called it. A five pence piece had the word ‘shilling’ written on it, and a ten pence had ‘two shillings’. And the old phrases were still in circulation as well, so people would refer to 50p as ‘ten bob’ which meant ten shillings. We also used to sometimes find old pennies and ha’pennies under the floorboards but these were copper and not used so we were allowed to keep them as play money. I loved the thruppeny bit which was slightly gold and had 12 straight sides, we couldn’t spend it but if we had then the value would have been half a two-and-a-half pence, so one-and-a-quarter pence. All the Old Money was chunky compared to the new but the thruppeny was thicker.

The sixpence wasn’t taken out of circulation straight away, as with the shilling and florin (two-shilling) coins, it was re-denominated, but was the first to be phased out. I was nine when the two-and-a-half pence piece was demonitised in June 1980. The shilling was demonitised in 1990 and the florin in 1993 except that by that time new 5p and 10p coins had been introduced so it didn’t seem to matter. But there were never any new 2.5p coins made. I missed the sixpence and I think a lot of others did as well. The only reason it stayed in legal tender for so long was because of the ‘save our sixpence’ campaign launched by the newspapers (no surprise there) to drum up some public angst about the loss of their familiar money, with a bit of anti-Euro in there too, no doubt.

We did have our own half-pence in new money, but this is possibly the denomination that has the shortest circulation in British history, being legal for only 13 years from 1971-1984. By the time the shilling and florin disappeared, there were more worrying things for the anti-Euros to think about.

Chocie sixpences at are traditional in weddings and are still available to buy but not for 2.5p and not to be used as legal tender. You can get sixpence chocolate coins, too! Isn’t google marvellous!! I learn something new every day when I’m writing popandcrisps posts.


Josie Henley-Einion, author, blogger, Legend in my own Living Room

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