Prior to decimalisation, the pound was divided into twenty shillings and there were twelve pennies to the shilling. The coin featured here dates from the reign of King George VI. It was issued in 1948, but still features the words ‘Ind Imp’ meaning Emperor of India. That country had gained its independence in 1947. Coins after 1949 acknowledged the independence and ‘Ind Imp’ no longer featured.
The coin now known as a shilling was introduced in 1503, but was called a testoon. It was one of the first English coins to feature an image of the Monarch and the term testoon derives from an Italian coin the testone, which can be translated as ‘headpiece’. The name was changed to shilling before the end of the century. The shilling is an example of a ‘silver’ coin, as opposed to ‘copper’ one. After 1920 shillings were made from only 50% silver and later after World War II there was no silver at all.
When coinage was decimalised in 1971 the shilling continued as legal tender with a value of five new pence until December 31st, 1990.
The designs on the reverse of the shillings issued since the reign of Queen Victoria vary greatly. The coin shown here has a lion above a crown. This was the same as the design on the shillings featuring King George V and continued after 1949, but the shillings issued after the succession of Queen Elizabeth II featured a shield with three lions (or leopards?) surmounted by a crown. Early Queen Victoria shillings featured the words ‘One Shilling’ surmounted by a crown and surrounded by a wreath of oak and olive(?) leaves. Later designs featured a shield within a garter and then three shields within a garter, plus a rose – the size of which differed – between the top two shields. Also, as Queen Victoria ruled for so long, there were three different portraits of her on her coins – the young head, the Jubilee head and the old veiled head. In comparison, there have been five different portraits of Queen Elizabeth Ii on British coins.