Tag Archives: sterling silver

Silver Pennies and Gold Sovereigns | The Royal Mint

Do you remember earlier this year I wrote about silver pennies and coin silver in Colonial America?

While we were in London, the whole family visited the Tower of London which began to house the Royal Mint in 1278. In the 20 (!) years since I’d last visited the Tower, the exhibitions have changed dramatically and there was this really interesting display about the coins of the realm.

Silver pennies of the Royal Mint

silver pennies

The  explanation in the photo reads — “For the first time, during the reign of Henry VIII (1485-1509), a coin was issued with the value of a pound. It was called a sovereign. One gold sovereign = one pound = 240 silver pennies.  Fact:  A pound of weight equalled 240 silver pennies.”

Once again, I was struck again by the literal “worth it’s weight” wealth that domestic silver represents.  The sheer heft of so much silver flatware and hollowware plus the value of the time and skill of the smith, it’s no wonder silver was a widely and highly-prized luxury commodity.

Even Ben Franklin was not immune.

“But mark how luxury will enter families, and make a progress, in spite of principle: being called one morning to breakfast, I found it in a china bowl, with a spoon of silver! They had been bought for me without my knowledge by my wife, and had cost her the enormous sum of three-and twenty shillings, for which she had no other excuse or apology to make but that she thought her husband deserved a silver spoon and china bowl as well as any of his neighbors. This was the first appearance of plate and china in our house, which afterward, in a course of years, as our wealth increases, augmented gradually to several hundred pounds in value.” — The Autobiography of Ben Franklin

And yes, the past tense ‘was’ is used deliberately…while silver is still a luxury commodity, it’s hard to argue that it is still as widely and highly prized as it was in the past. But who knows what the future holds!  What seems a quaint or useless anachronism at one point in time, can suddenly flower into re-birth in another.

I’d like to think the photo below captures some of that sentiment…almost a millennia of London in one glance if you will.

silver pennies

One of the famous ravens sitting on a cannon just outside the White Tower. Beyond the walls and across the river the ultra-modern City Hall stands in complete contrast.