When was the last time you paid for something with a halfpenny? That’s right...half of a penny! Never? Well, if you lived in England during the Reign of Queen Elizabeth I (1558-1603) you may have! And if you did not have a halfpenny coin, you could chop a penny coin in half and voila - a halfpenny! Look at the reproduction halfpenny from Agecroft’s collection below. Do you see the cross shape on the back of the coin? This was a symbol of Christianity as well as a guide mark for cutting the penny in half (halfpenny) or in fourths (farthing).
Elizabeth 1 halfpenny obverse (front)
Elizabeth I halfpenny reverse (back) Coins and what they can buy change over time. People began using them to “trade” for goods and services about 2,000 years ago in what is today the country of Turkey. In other times and places people used animals or beads as currency or bartered (traded) for what they need - some still do. You can usually see an image of the country’s ruler on its coinage during that ruler’s reign. Tudor coins are no exception. Whatever method is used, coins/animals/beads have worth. This worth tells how much a coin can buy.
There was no paper money in Elizabethan England. Coins were made of gold or silver alloyed (mixed) with another metal and were worth what the metals that made them up were worth at a particular time. The Royal Mint was housed in the Tower of London between c.1279 and 1812. In Tudor times, there were 16 types of coins in circulation, but the primary coins that were used were the pound (£), shilling(s - from sestertius - a silver Roman coin) and pence (d - from denarius - a Roman coin). Today, the pound and pence are still used in the U.K., but the shilling has not been used since 1971, when Britain moved to use of the decimal system (A shilling had 12 pennies.)
Coins were hammered and “roughly cut” in Tudor Times. Hammered coins were produced by placing a blank piece of metal (a planchet or flan) of the correct weight between two dies, and then striking the upper die with a hammer to produce the required image on both sides. In order to increase the production of coins, hammered coins were sometimes produced from strips of metal of the correct thickness, from which the coins were subsequently cut out.
Both methods of producing hammered coins meant that it was difficult to produce coins of a regular diameter. Coins were liable to suffer from "clipping" where unscrupulous people would remove slivers of precious metal since it was difficult to determine the correct diameter of the coin. Hammered coins gradually became obsolete during the 17th century with the ability to fashion coins from machines (milled coins).
The value of a coin in Tudor England was based on how much gold or silver it was made from and what it could get, or buy, for you. The value of a coin fluctuated with the value of the gold or silver from which it was made.
Elizabeth I Coins of the Realm
Charles I Coinage