Sing a Song of Sixpence

1787 Sixpence Size Comparison

1787 Sixpence Size Comparison

This sixpence is one of my favourite coins, and is pictured above with a current penny coin and a US cent for size comparison.

The sixpence was first issued in 1551 – the reign of Edward VI. He was the sickly son of Henry VIII and Jane Seymour, the King’s third wife. It continued in production in subsequent reigns, though it was not produced every year. One of the issues of George II was designed by John Sigismund Tanner, which is why those of you old enough to remember the 6d coin are all saying “Ah!” at the moment. Yes, that’s why it was known as a “tanner”.

Unfortunately, the Royal Mint website says that the name probably dates from the early 1800s and comes from the Romany “tawno”, meaning “small one”, which confuses things. Why the sixpence should be the small one when we had silver 4d and 3d coins at that time, is not explained, but let’s just say that I don’t consider the Royal Mint website to be 100% correct in all things.

There was a break in sixpence production between 1758 and 1787. This was partly due to a world shortage of silver, and partly due to the madness of King George, who was unable to authorise new issues. This led to the issue of unofficial token coins by local tradesmen, and the use of foreign silver coins as substitutes for the crown (five shillings) and half crown. The Bank of England also issued coins of  3 shillings and 1/6d, selecting these denominations to avoid conflict with the King’s coinage.

The design features a bust of the King wearing Roman-style armour and a wreath of laurels. He was not, as you can see, a handsome man. Looking at him brings stories of Princesses kissing frogs. The reverse has four shields representing the King’s claims to England/Scotland on one, and France, Hanover and Ireland on the others. He’d have been better off forgetting France and hanging on to America.

.

 

In 1787 the average working wage was £15 – £20 a year – or around a shilling a day (working a six day week). A low level domestic servant could be on as little as £3 a year and a footman could earn £8 (about 6d a day) Servants were also given food, lodgings and clothing. It’s never easy comparing the cost of living, but this article is quite interesting.

So, what was happening in 1787?

February – in the newly independent America – Shay’s Rebellion fails. This was a rebellion by Massachusetts residents against government taxation policies. This seems familiar…

There would be two more rebellions a few years later – the Whiskey Rebellion and Fries’s Rebellion. Until I started writing about 1787 I had no idea American history could be so interesting.

On May 13 the Ships of the First Fleet left Portsmouth for Australia with around 700 convicts and 300 crew and guards. Or up to 1,500 people according to other accounts. It took them between 250 and 252 days to reach Botany Bay as they became a little strung out on the journey, though two days after 250 days at sea is still quite impressive.

The First Fleet is commemorated with a memorial, including a garden area with a barbecue. Because I’m trying to be a nice person, rather than a crabby old xenophobe, I will refrain from mentioning how it is typical of Australians to have a barbecue. It is not only their national symbol, alongside the kangaroo and the boomerang, but it is their way of rubbing it in that our weather is not as good as theirs.

Why Australia? Because the newly independent American colonies refused to accept our convicts. If we’d sent them to Canada, which would have been cheaper and less sunny,  I wonder if the Canadians would then have developed a love of cricket.

This mention of cricket is fortuitous as the first cricket game was played at Lord’s in this year and the MCC was founded. It was possibly cricket which killed Prince Frederick, eldest sone of George II and father of George III. He was a great patron of the game and died of an infection of the lung. In one version of the story this was caused when he was struck in the chest by a cricket ball, though others say a real tennis ball, and the dullest version of the story says it was pleurisy.

Also on a topic which has recently become topical, was the founding of the Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade.  The movement for the abolition of slavery had been inspired by Pennsylvania Quakers and had spread to Quakers in the UK. The society was founded in 1787 because Quakers were prohibited from holding many civil offices and they sought to include Anglicans, who were not disadvantaged by religion, to increase the political reach of the society. (The Test Acts would be repealed in 1828, shortly before the abolition of slavery in British territory).

In 1787 freed slave Ottobah Cugoano published Thoughts and Sentiments on the Evil and Wicked Traffic of the Slavery and Commerce of the Human Species.

170px-Official_medallion_of_the_British_Anti-Slavery_Society_(1795)

Design by Wedgwood for the Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade – it was on the seal of the society and appears on a number of other titems

 Six men were killed in 1787 when troops opened fire on striking weavers in Calton, just outside Glasgow. The weavers had become accustomed to wages of up to £100 a year (see the link about wages – £100 enabled one of the ‘middling sort’ to live comfortably), due to their skill and demand for their product but mechanisation was making things cheaper, and prices were falling. After a 25% wages cut they went on strike and six were killed when the troops opened fire.

It’s a story with many echoes through history, including the Luddites, the Peterloo Massacre, and the Scottish Insurrection.

That is probably enough for now. It has now run to over 1,000 words, and I have only kept it so short by cutting several hundred words. The trouble with the internet is that it makes it so easy to keep finding more and more information.

Wwood Slave

Wedgwood jasperware plaque, also made as a pendant and a brooch.

12 thoughts on “Sing a Song of Sixpence

  1. Pingback: Poppies, Planning and Pottering | quercuscommunity

  2. tootlepedal

    The thousand words passed in a flash so interesting were they to read. I agree about not bothering with France but hanging on to America would have led to us in Britain becoming a mere appendage of that country with its inexhaustible resources in the course of time….hmmm.

    Reply

Leave a Reply