Coin nicknames – the British fondness for change

The British public give coins nicknames as if they are old friends.

Over the past few hundred years, many coins have taken on names that they were never originally supposed to have. Though many of these do not survive to the present day, we present to you a selection of our best attempts at referencing and researching the murky history of coin nicknames. Enjoy!

Old names

Bender – A sixpence was known as a bender because due to its silver content it could be bent in the hands. This was commonly done to create ‘love tokens’, many of which survive in collections to this day. The value of a sixpence was also enough to get thoroughly inebriated as taverns would often allow you to drink all day for tuppence. This gave rise to the expression ‘Going on a bender’.

Bob – The subject of great debate, as the origins of this nickname are unclear although we do know that usage of bob for shilling dates back to the late 1700s. Brewer’s 1870 Dictionary of Phrase and Fable states that ‘bob’ could be derived from ‘Bawbee’, which was 16-19th century slang for a half-penny. ‘Bob’ was also used to refer to a set of changes rung on church bells, and this may have been the nickname’s origin as the word ‘shilling’ has its origins in the proto-Germanic word ‘skell’ which means ‘ring’.

A George IV shilling or 'bob'

A George IV shilling or ‘bob’

 

Florin – The early florins took their name from coins first issued in Italy which became dominant trade coins across Western Europe. Edward III attempted to introduce a six shilling gold coin that would be suitable for trade with European super-powers of the time, but due to being underweight for their face value they were unsuitable as such and were quickly withdrawn.

Groat – also known as the fuppence, this large four penny coin was a mainstay of medieval money. The name comes from the Dutch ‘groot’ which means ‘great’ and is a reference to the coin’s size. The word entered the British lexicon in several expressions, most of which have now fallen out of use. The groat’s strong medieval association finds it commonly referred to in fantasy and historical literature.

Tanner – this alternative name for the sixpence probably dates from the early 1800s and seems to have its root in the Romany gypsy ‘tawno’ which means ‘small one’.

Thruppenny bit – also variously known as a Joey or a thruppence, this coin is still manufactured in very small numbers by The Royal Mint for inclusion in sets of Maundy Money.

Modern names, still in use

Quid – an old nickname for the pound that has survived into modern British usage. Originally the name quid referred specifically to bank-notes, but since the introduction of the pound coin that has changed.

Sov – a nickname for Sovereigns, and also sometimes applied to pound coins.

Nugget – a relative newcomer used to refer to pound coins but which may have been previously applied to Sovereigns.

Beer token – commonly used but often assigned specifically to the £2 coin, as when it was introduced a pint of beer in Britain commonly cost around £2.

BarberOsgerbyUndergroundcoin

A London Underground ‘beer token’

 

Foreign names

Nickel – This term became popular after 1866 when the content of the 5-cent piece was changed from silver and copper to copper and nickel, a cheaper metal.

Quarter – Spanish dollars circulated alongside US dollars for many years. Spanish dollars were divided into 8 “bits” and so the US government issued a 25¢ coin to help people give change. these coins were known as ‘quarters’ or ‘two bits’.

Loonies – The Canadian one dollar coin was introduced in 1987. It bears images of a common loon, a bird which is common and well known in Canada, on the reverse.

Toonies – The Canadian two dollar coin is unsurprisingly nicknamed the ‘Toonie’. (Thanks to reader Shuki Raz for this one!)

Pieces of eight – The ‘Pieces of eight’ was the 8-Reale coin, the Spanish silver dollar. This was perhaps the most widely used and universally accepted coin in the world during the past 300 years. An 8-Reale coin was so valuable that is was frequently cut into eight pieces! (Thanks to reader Geoffrey Gill for this description)

Two bits – From pieces of eight – a quarter of a Spanish dubloon. Still used in popular vernacular to this day e.g. ‘A two bit operation’.

The Aussie dollar – suggested names were the royal, austral, oz, boomer, roo, emu, kanga, kwid, digger & dinkum. (Thanks to the Perth Mint for these great names!)

Do you know of a coin nickname we have missed?

Let us know in the comments below and share your coin nicknames with the world.

The return of a British favourite

The 350th Anniversary of the Guinea 2013 UK £2 BUThe Guinea took its name from the source of the gold used to make it. In 2013, the Guinea returns. The Royal Mint has brought this popular coin into the present day by placing its most popular variation on the two pound coin. You can own this numismatic icon in a collector quality Brilliant uncirculated finish for just £10.

Visit The Royal Mint website to purchase

This entry was posted in History and tradition by James Owen. Bookmark the permalink.
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About James Owen

James has worked for The Royal Mint since November 2011 and brings his experience of Digital Marketing specifically, e-marketing, content marketing and copywriting. He loves to share information about The Royal Mint with as many people as possible and has started to develop a real fascination with coins.
  • http://www.facebook.com/shuki.raz Shuki Raz

    You missed the Canadian ‘twonie’ (or ‘toonie’) for the $2 coin – rhymes with ‘loonie’. And of course the dime (10 cents).

    • http://twitter.com/RoyalMintUK The Royal Mint

      Thanks. We’ll add it and credit you Shuki!

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  • Tony Fricker

    What about a Tickey or Ticky, a former South African threepenny-bit.

    • http://twitter.com/RoyalMintUK The Royal Mint

      Thanks for sharing that one. Our first South African coin nickname!

  • Geoffrey Gill

    I think that the following two of the above references are incorrect.

    “Pieces of eight – A Spanish dubloon was so valuable that is was frequently cut into eight pieces!
    Two bits – From pieces of eight – a quarter of a Spanish dubloon. Still used in popular vernacular to this day e.g. ‘A two bit operation’.”

    A “Piece of eight” was the Spanish 8-Reale coin – the Spanish silver Dollar. This was perhaps the most widely used and universally accepted coin in the world during the past 300 years. The dubloon, or doubloon, was a gold coin of two escudos (hence the “Double) or 32 reales

  • Geoffrey Gill

    I think that, of the above references , the two following are incorrect:

    “Pieces of eight – A Spanish dubloon was so valuable that is was frequently cut into eight pieces!”
    and
    “Two bits – From pieces of eight – a quarter of a Spanish dubloon. Still used in popular vernacular to this day e.g. ‘A two bit operation’.”

    The ‘Pieces of eight’ was the 8-Reale coin, the Spanish silver dollar. This was perhaps the most widely used and universally accepted coin in the world during the past 300 years. On the other hand, the dubloon, or doubloon, was a Spanish gold coin of 32 Reales or 2 escudos (hence the ‘double’)

    • http://twitter.com/RoyalMintUK The Royal Mint

      You’re right! We will amend that one and give you credit for spotting the error Geoffrey. Please keep the suggestions and corrections coming.

  • SW6776

    £1 notes were always called ‘Greenbacks’ when I was growing up..

    • http://twitter.com/RoyalMintUK The Royal Mint

      We have steered away from mentioning notes…the Bank of England are responsible for those!

  • Gerry

    What about the “Half Crown” worth 2/6d,a “Fiver” for £5,a “Tenner” for £10,A “Nicker” for £1.00,also “half a nicker” for 10 shilling note,

  • Oldtimer

    During WW2, a half crown (2s/6d) was also referred to as “half a dollar” by the United States servicemen in my area (the town of Derby, now a city). The UK/US exchange rate was 4 dollars to a £ sterling. Thus a dollar was worth 5s/0d and a half crown was half a dollar.

  • Oldtimer

    The Florin was re-introduced in the nineteenth century as a first step towards decimalisation. But this was not followed up at the time and a century went by until decimalisation actually took place in 1971. The Florin was 2s/0d which converts to 10p in present day money.

  • Stewart Rayment

    One that didn’t really catch on – the ‘Maggie’, after the Prime Minister who reintroduced a £1.00 coin – bold as brass and thinks its a sovereign.

    • http://twitter.com/RoyalMintUK The Royal Mint

      We came across that one in our research, but left it out because as you say it never really caught on.

  • Johnnie L

    The five shilling coin (now £5 coin) was a crown giving rise to the 2/6 being half a crown. When the £1 coin was released it was nicknamed “The Scargill” as it was thick and brassy and also gave the 50p coin its name “The ‘arfa Scargill.

    • http://twitter.com/RoyalMintUK The Royal Mint

      I love the ‘Arfa Scargill’ name…had never heard that one!

  • Money

    How about “dollar” for 5 bob or 5 shillings or now 25p. Used when a £ was worth $4

    • http://twitter.com/RoyalMintUK The Royal Mint

      That’s a new one to me!

  • Richie ~ kelticgeordie

    A ‘Joey’ is a silver Four Pence [4d];1836 – 1888, and not to be confused with a groat or silver threepence, mistakenly called a Joey. The nickname was taken from a Joseph Hume, who recommended it to facilitate payment of the then, 4d London omnibus fare.

    • http://twitter.com/RoyalMintUK The Royal Mint

      I think we’ll include Joey and credit you…thanks for the suggestion!

  • Dave

    £1 notes were called a sheet in London. £5 is a lady Godiva and £20 is a pony

    • David

      …….and the ten shilling note was “half a sheet”

      • http://twitter.com/RoyalMintUK The Royal Mint

        We’re staying away from notes, but still interesting to hear! Maybe we can ask the Bank of England to write a note nicknames blog post?

  • Tom Shields

    The Half Crown was often refered to as a Half Dollar especially in cockney and the Crown or the 5 shiling piece as a Dollar.The U.S.Dollar being equal to 5 Shilling at that time .When I was a child in the late 40s and the 50s a Half Crown was always Half a Dollar.

  • Keith Hilton

    Dime the USA 10 cent coin

  • Malcolm R. Duncan

    On a visit to Durban, South Africa in 1957 (Merchant Navy) a stall holder in a kiosk asked me to pay a “ticky” for a small purchase. This turned out to be the local name for a three-pence piece. Half-a-crown was called half a dollar when I was a child, a reference to the time when there were $4 to £1.
    Malcolm R. Duncan.

    • http://twitter.com/RoyalMintUK The Royal Mint

      A ticky? Lovely to hear such colloquial names that would otherwise be lost in time.

  • http://twitter.com/DorzetRob DorzetRob

    How could you forget the “Tiddler”, the name for the first decimal halfpence coin. All the nicknames are affectionate I think and my favourite is the Tanner, both in name and coin!

    • http://twitter.com/RoyalMintUK The Royal Mint

      Tiddler! I like it. reminds me of ‘tiddly-winks’.

  • John of Sheffield

    A piece of 8 in known as such because of the figure 8 on the
    face of the coin. These coins have a high silver content and were frequently cut into pieces often eight in number. It is likely that originally these were the
    pieces of eight, the eight being the whole coin.
    It is also known as a Pillar Dollar because of the 2 columns or pillars on the face of the coin. It may also have been referred to as a silver doubloon and could be something to do with the double pillars.

  • hiver

    You missed out the guinea and the pony.

    • http://twitter.com/RoyalMintUK The Royal Mint

      The guinea is an interesting one because although the name was assigned to the coin as a ‘nickname’ due to the origin of the gold used to make it, it actually became the official name.

  • ROBBIE

    the sixpence in my early days was known as a ‘spazee’

  • Alan McFerran

    In Ireland:

    An old £sd halfpenny was commonly referred to as a “make”; no idea why nor when it emerged.
    An old £sd penny was called a “wing”, probably coined (pun not intended) after the hen on the reverse side of the old Irish Republic penny.

    A £1 note was sometimes referred to as a “brad”; short for “bradbury”?

    • http://twitter.com/RoyalMintUK The Royal Mint

      Some interesting ones. I’ve never heard any of those!

  • Andrew Knights

    I am sure that in my youth an old penny was referred to as a copper.

    • http://twitter.com/RoyalMintUK The Royal Mint

      This is a name that continues to be used for all ‘copper’ coins. the actual metal content is:

      Bronze (97% copper, 2.5% zinc, 0.5% tin) – until September 1992
      Copper-plated steel – since September 1992, except in 1998 when the 2p was made in both alloys

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  • http://www.facebook.com/ralph.caton.3 Ralph Caton

    Have you heard the nickname “Jimmy O’Goblins” for the sovereign? I’ve heard it referred to as such on gramophone records (from the time when we were still on the Gold Standard)

  • Uncialus

    In the same vein as the “2 bits”, I often encountered “4 bits” for the half dollar in Canada and the USA.

  • Uncialus

    As an addendum to Oldtimer’s post regarding the UK name usage of a “dollar”, it should be noted that British dollars were first introduced as overmarked coins of various other countries, but predominantly Spanish American 8-Reales with a nominal value of 4s 9d. The first minting of English dollar coins was in 1804 in the reign of George III. These coins were re-struck Spanish-American 8-Reales and had both “Five Shillings” and “Dollar” on the obverse. It is not unlikely that the usage of the term ‘dollar’ for a crown would remain in the English langauge up to the 20th century.

    Ref: Spinks 2008 “Coins of England and the United Kingdom, 43rd Ed.” pp, 396

  • Alan Oaten

    The pound coin is known as a Thatcher around London because it is thick brassy and thinks its a sovereign

  • Bill I am

    I think the half crown (2 shillings and 6d) was called half a dollar. Not sure of the reason.