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Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Regency Coinage

In one of my books, Proper Conduct, the heroine spends a good deal of time worrying about money, particular after her father spends nearly 1,000 pounds on a horse. That was not an excessive sum to someone such as the Prince Regent, whose racing stud farm cost him 30,000 pounds a year. But in an era when we talk of millions, billions and trillions and when a new car can cost that 30,000 pounds, all these numbers seemed to need to be put into perspective.

 The value of a pound sterling (£) had changed considerably--the purchasing power of a pound was about 50 to 60 times more than in our current era. So you can basically multiply by 50 to get an idea of the value of having a single guinea in hand or twenty-one shillings.

During the Regency...

  • Four farthing made a penny--otherwise known as a pence (or marked by d for denarius)
  • Twelve pennies (or twelvepence) made a shilling
  • Five shillings made a crown
  • Twenty shillings made a pound
  • Twenty-one shillings made a guinea

Copper farthings and haypence, silver pennies, shillings and crows, and the tiny gold guineas.
The term farthing comes from 'fourth' of a penny. Two-penny coins were called tuppence. The three penny coin was known as a thruppence, or thripp'nce, thrupp'nce, threpp'nce, thripp'ny bit depending on your accent and area. And there were all sorts of slang names for other coins including: a quid (pound), a bob (shilling), a goldfinch (guinea).

 Coinage in use in the Regency included:

  • gold for one, two, five and half-guinea coins
  • silver for one, two, three, four, six penny (or pence), shilling and crown coins
  • copper for half-pence and farthing coins
Gold Guinea

Due to a shortage of copper and silver coins in the late 1700's, firms began to use tokens to pay wages. There was also a growth in payments by foreign coins.

The sovereign--a gold coin worth 20 shillings or 1 pound--and half sovereign coins came back into production in 1816/1817 (they had been around from the 1400 to 1600s).

The five guinea coin was at first valued as five pounds, but became five guineas in 1717 when the guinea's value was standardized at one pound and one shilling. 

Due to the silver shortage, in 1804 the Bank of England issued light-weight token silver coins for one shilling, three shilling and six pence coins. But special silver coins were also struck to celebrate Maundy, the celebration of the Last Supper when Christ gave the command or mandatum to love one another.
1800 Maundy Silver Penny
 The 1802 Royal Maundy notes recipients were given 4 pounds of beef and four threepenny loaves. Sets of 1d (one penny) to 4d silver coins were struck for Maundy gift from 1731 and on. To avoid statutory prohibitions on the striking of silver coin during the war (due to silver shortages), all Maundy coins from 1800 to 1815 bear the date 1800. Maundy coins and gifts were gradually phased out by King William and Queen Victoria. In 1820, 1,100 years after the first English silver pennies were minted, the last British silver pennies were minted.

It should be noted that the florin had been around in the 1300's, made of gold and worth 6 shillings, and was reissued in 1849 as a 2 shilling coin (or 'two bob bit'), but did not exist in the Regency.

You'll note that most of this discussion is about coins--paper money was rather uncommon and not trusted by many. A coin carried its value in the metal of the coin--if the worst happened, the coin could be melted and the value retains. This was not true with paper.
1821 banknote --partially printed and handwritten

Bank notes had been around for centuries, many of them private notes issued for gold deposits, and the Bank of England started to issue notes for such deposits in 1694. These were all hand written notes. By 1745 notes were being part printed in denominations ranging from £20 to £1,000. The £5 note came out in 1793, and the £1 and £2 notes in 1797. The first fully printed notes do not appeared until 1853--until then, cashiers had to fill in the name of the payee and sign each note. You can see why coins proved to be so much easier to use in transactions.

What this meant is that those with money did not carry money--coins are bulky and carrying a lot of them can also be heavy. Aristocrats would buy goods on credit and expect tradesmen to present bills. Someone who was traveling might have some coins with him--but a few coins went a very long way as well.

From 1811 to 1812, an estimated 250,000 people lived comfortably on more than seven hundred pounds a year each. A half million shopkeepers made a hundred and fifty pounds a year each, two million artisans lived on the edge of poverty at 55 pounds per annum, and one and one half million laborers earned only 30 pounds a year each.

With an income of four hundred pounds a year, one could employ two maids, one groom and keep one horse in London. 

On seven hundred a year, one could have one manservant, three maids and two horses.

For a thousand a year, one could have three female servants, a coachman, a footman, two carriages and a pair of horses in London.

And then the expenses went up--a great house could cost between 5,000 and 6,000 pounds a year in maintenance, including housekeeping, repairs, stables, parklands, gardens, home farm costs, servants, and taxes.   

Land still meant riches. There were three to four hundred families whose income was over 10,000 pounds a year, due to vast land holdings. The Earl of Egremont saw a rise in income due to land rentals that increased from 12,976 pounds in 1791 to 34,000 pounds in 1824. But it cost money to make money--the capital to secure an estate was approximately thirty times the desired income. In Somerset (where Proper Conduct is set) 30 acres for let went for 35 pounds per annum, with the tenant paying all taxes except land tax.

The down side in all of this is that anyone with a debt of twenty pounds or more could be sent to debtor's prison. Only a member of Parliament could not be imprisoned while Parliament was sitting. This was a threat to anyone facing debts--but that is another article.


Shannon Donnelly’s writing has won numerous awards, including a nomination for Romance Writer’s of America’s RITA award, the Grand Prize in the "Minute Maid Sensational Romance Writer" contest, judged by Nora Roberts, and others. Her writing has repeatedly earned 4½ Star Top Pick reviews from Romantic Times magazine, as well as praise from Booklist and other reviewers, who note: "simply superb"..."wonderfully uplifting"....and "beautifully written."

Her latest Regency romance, Lady Chance, the follow up to Lady Scandal, is out on In addition to her Regency romances, she is the author of the Mackenzie Solomon, Demon/Warders Urban Fantasy series, Burn Baby Burn and Riding in on a Burning Tire, and the SF/Paranormal, Edge Walkers. Her work has been on the top seller list of and includes the Historical romances, The Cardros Ruby and Paths of Desire

She is the author of several young adult horror stories, and has also written computer games and offers editing and writing workshops. She lives in New Mexico with two horses, two donkeys, two dogs, and the one love of her life. Shannon can be found online at,, and twitter/sdwriter.


1 comment:

Donna Hatch said...

This is great! As an American, I have a hard understanding English money, and your post helped clear that up, as well as give it Regency value. Great post!