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The Penny in the Pennylands: Coinage in Scotland in the Early Middle Ages

The Penny in the Pennylands: Coinage in Scotland in the Early Middle Ages

The Penny in the Pennylands: Coinage in Scotland in the Early Middle Ages

By Veronica Smart

Northern Studies, Volume 22, 1985

Introduction: It should perhaps be explained at the outset for any readers unfamiliar with the early numismatic history of the British Isles that the term ‘penny’ is first given with general consent to describe the broad, thin silver coin, roughly the size of our five-pence piece, which was introduced during the last years of the reign of Offa towards the end of the eighth century (though perhaps in Kent rather than in Mercia), and approximating in size and shape to the Carolingian denier.

However, numismatic opinion is more and more inclining to extend the term to take in the smaller, thicker and generally anonymous silver pieces (formerly known, with very weak documentary support, as ‘sceattas’), which go back to the seventh century. Other terms of account, such as shilling, mancus, mark and ora are to be found in Old English documents, but the silver penny was tile only coin to be issued, and remained so until the groat was introduced by Edward I in 1279. Halfpennies and farthings were obtained by shearing the penny literally into its halves and quarters.


The only exception, and one which is very relevant here, is that ninth century Northumbria replaced the ‘sceat’ not with the broader denier type penny but with a coinage of much the same weight and format of the ‘sceat’ but struck in copper. It is difficult to believe that this coin was known as a penny, since its value was so much less than its contemporary Southumbrian counterpart.


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