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Once the Romans had left our shores, Britons went back to a system of bartering. It wasn’t until the 7th century that Anglo Saxon kings established mints within their kingdoms and by the time of Aethelred “The Unready” there were 70 mints across Britain. By the end of the 13th century, British coins were produced at the Tower of London. These were struck by holding a metal blank between two engraved dies and striking the top die with a hammer, hence the name “Hammered”. In 1660, Charles II brought back the latest technology from Holland and hammering was replaced by rolling mills and screw presses, hence the name ‘Milled’. Produced more quickly and with a better quality finish, they marked the next step forward for Britain’s historic coins.
The next historic landmark came in 1796 when Matthew Boulton used a steam engine to power a press. This was a much-needed development that played a key role in the great recoinage of 1816, an attempt to stabilise Britain’s currency. The following year the first ‘modern’ day Sovereign featuring Benedetto Pistrucci’s George and the dragon was struck but just a century later, production came to an end and paper banknotes were issued instead. In 1947, as Britain continued to suffer from post-war austerity measures, yet more old British coins disappeared as silver was replaced by cheaper cupro-nickel. The Royal Mint however continued to produce and export vast quantities of coins to a number of countries, thereby securing its position as one of the world’s most successful mints.
After World War II, the next challenge was decimalisation. Previous efforts to implement the system had been unsuccessful but during the 1960s there were renewed calls for decimal currency. On 1st March 1966, the British Government made the historic announcement to changeover to decimal coinage. In 1968 the 5p and 10p were introduced and in 1969 came the new 50p piece to replace the ten-shilling banknote. “D-Day” came on 15th December 1971 - an important day for our historic UK coins as we bid a fond farewell to the old system of pounds, shillings and pence. The old penny and three-penny bit were withdrawn soon after and the sixpence followed in 1980. The £1 coin arrived in 1983, while the 5p, 10p and 50p were re-sized in the 1990s.