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The Splendid Shilling by James O’Donald Mays, published in 1982
The shilling has commanded a book to itself: The Splendid Shilling by James O’Donald Mays, published in 1982



This modern electrotype copy of an Anglo-Saxon gold shilling bears the name of London on its reverse. The original coin is in the Ashmolean Museum

The shilling as a unit of account

As a unit of account the shilling goes back much further than Tudor England. The mathematician Robert Record, in a description of the British currency published in 1543, explained that ‘of the two most common values of money spake I nothing, that is to say, of pounds and shillings, which though they have no coins yet is there no name more in use than they’. It is a comment which occasions no surprise since, as a means of reckoning the value of land, goods and services, the shilling can be traced back to the Domesday Book and even beyond this to Anglo-Saxon England. In fact, there are small gold coins of the seventh century, previously known as thrymsas or tremisses, which are now recognised as shillings. Their value, however, in those very early days is not entirely clear, for there appear to be shillings of four, five and 12 pence. It was the Normans who standardised the value at 12 pence soon after the Conquest of 1066, when the libra of 20 solidi and the solidus of 12 denarii became the official units of account.

The shilling as a unit of account


The shilling, then, has been for more than 1000 years a part of the British currency system, both as a unit of account and as an actual coin.