Victoria ruled Great Britain from 1837 until her death in 1901.
During the 64 years of her reign, Britain turned to the remote
parts of the world and established a colonial empire of such
extent and prosperity that the world has never seen its like.
the years of her reign, the bust of Victoria on the coinage of
the United Kingdom had changed as the Queen matured. The profile
of Victoria as a young girl appeared shortly after her
coronation. Then, beginning in 1847, a "Gothic" version
of Victoria appeared, with the heavy crown of England placed over
her youthful braids. The bronze coinage of 1860 through 1895
displayed Victoria with her hair styled differently and was known
as the "bun head" issue. A more middle-aged likeness
for her highly celebrated Golden Jubilee followed nearly a half
century later. It was in in 1893 however, when a distinctly
matronly representation of the Queen was placed on all coin of
the realm. It is this design that many professional numismatists
consider to be the most striking design of a monarch ever to
grace a British coin.
was also during the latter years of Victoria's reign that
Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson made their "appearance"
on 221B Baker Street. To a small extent, it was their dealing
with the coinage of Victorian England that made them a little
more real, a little more human, a little more legendary.
follows is a detailed description of each of the standard coins
in circulation during the time of Victoria, as well as a
reference to their appearance throughout the Canon.
The coins displayed are not actual size; click on the image for an
was the standard gold coin used throughout the British Empire,
and was struck between 1893 and 1901 at the mints in London,
Sydney, Melbourne and Perth. The obverse displays the bust of
Victoria surrounded by the Latin legend
translates to "Victoria, By The Grace of God, Queen of
Britain, Defender of the Faith, Empress of India". On the
reverse, the mythical St. George on horseback is slaying a
Sovereign was also known as a Pound, and was valued at 20
shillings. (Centuries earlier, a "Pound" was equivalent
to a pound of silver.) By comparison, a "Guinea" was a
sovereign and a shilling, or 21 shillings.
The Priory School, Holmes offers the
antagonist Reuben Hayes a sovereign for the use of a bicycle. In
a life-and-death struggle to open a coffin in time, Holmes
provides an added incentive of a sovereign if the "lid comes
off in a minute" in The Disappearance of
Lady Frances Carfax. In The
Greek Interpreter, Mr. Melas, the concerned
interpreter is paid five sovereigns for his silence. The
red-headed Jabez Wilson is paid four sovereigns weekly for his
duties to The Red-Headed League,
while in The Blue Carbuncle,
a wager of a sovereign is paid by Holmes to a goose wholesaler
for some "priceless" information.
Half-sovereign is virtually identical to the sovereign in design
and mintage. The value was 10 shillings (120 pence), as you might
interviewing solicited harpooners in search of a murderer in Black
Peter, Holmes gives a half-sovereign to
those interviewees he doesn't suspect "for their
trouble." In a rush to get to the church for her immediate
marriage, Irene Adler offers the coachman half a sovereign for
her speedy delivery in A Scandal in Bohemia.
Holmes taunts first-hand information from the off-duty constable,
John Rance for a half-sovereign in A Study in
Scarlet, and in The Sign
of Four, Holmes rents the gifted mongrel
Toby for a half-sovereign. Information is again purchased for a
half-sovereign from cab driver 2704 in The
Hound of the Baskervilles.
Crown is considered to be the most desirable, majestic member of
between 1893 and 1900 in 92.5% pure (known as Sterling) silver ,
its value was equivalent to five shillings (60 pence). Here, the
view of an elderly Queen, dressed in black in perpetual mourning
for her deceased husband over three decades past is more finely
engraved. The inscription is the same as above, as is the reverse
design, which, by the way was executed by Master Engraver
Benedetto Pistrucci and first appeared on the coinage of 1817.
Crown, being a rather large and heavy coin, was not in use as
heavily as smaller denominations, hence the Canon excludes the
mention of this piece.
"Old Head" Half crown was minted between 1893 and 1901,
and also contained Sterling Silver. It was valued at two
shillings and sixpence, or 30 pence. Surrounding the bust of
Victoria are the Latin terms
"VICTORIA-DEI-GRA-BRITT-REG", which means
"Victoria, By the Grace of God, Queen of Britain". The
ornate reverse displays the Royal Shield, encircled by
"FID-DEF-IND-IMP" (Defender of the Faith, Empress of
India) and the words HALF CROWN, separated by the date the coin
Half crown appears in several stories in the series. In The
Dying Detective, Holmes was severely
disappointed with Watson that he carried too few half-crowns,
prompting the good doctor to consider him mad. An offer by Holmes
of a half-crown tip is momentarily declined by Dawson, a groom
for Silas Brown in The Silver Blaze.
In A Scandal in Bohemia,
Holmes estimation of the value of the stationery upon which an
important message was scribed at "not under half a crown per
packet" leads him to the correct assumption that it was from
Bohemia. Holmes rented a "dog-cart" for half a crown to
travel with Watson to The Cedars in The Man
with the Twisted Lip. Finally, in The
Engineer's Thumb, Inspector Bradstreet
discussed with Holmes the gang of counterfeiters who' ve been
"turning out half crowns by the thousand."
dates were identical to that of the Half crown, and its value was
slightly less - two shillings (24 pence). The legend on the
obverse was the same as on the Crown. The reverse, however,
displays three shields (England, Scotland, Ireland) encircled by
HONI - SOIT - QUI - MAL - Y - PENSE ( ). This in turn is flanked by the words
ONE-FLORIN and TWO SHILLINGS, with the date below.
Florin or Two Shillings appears only once in the series, in The
Crooked Man, where a small clue is uncovered
by Holmes when he recognizes what appears to be a bad florin in
the deposit of the Crooked Man's landlady as an Indian rupee.
shilling was one of the more common types used in circulation,
and possessed the same basic design features as the florin. The
shilling was valued at 12 pence, and was abbreviated as an 's'
(Latin for solidus, a
shilling is mentioned frequently throughout the Canon, the most
familiar being from The Sign of Four,
in which Holmes pays a shilling to each member of the Baker
Street Irregulars as daily wages for searching out Morticai
Smith's steamer, the Aurora.
In A Study in Scarlet,
Dr. Watson's monthly stipend is eleven shillings and sixpence.
The value of the small busts of Napoleon in The
Six Napoleons was no more than a few
shillings, while as mentioned inThe
Cardboard Box, the Stradavarius Holmes
occasionally plays was bought for mearly 55 shillings. For six
shillings, a disguised Holmes bought a pair of incriminating
cast-off shoes to match to footprints in The
Beryl Coronet. Finally, fromThe
Hound of the Baskervilles, Holmes gives
Cartwright 56 shillings to give to porters at various Charing
Cross Hotels to gain permission to search their waste for an
important page from a newspaper.
sixpence, like most from the "Old Head" series, was
minted between 1893 and 1901.
sole mention of the value of sixpence in the Canon can be found
in The Sign of Four,
where Holmes' assessment of the envelope used in a letter to Mary
Morstan to be sixpence a packet, "the best quality
with all bronze coinage of the Victorian "Old Head' design,
the penny, or pence
was minted from 1895 to 1901, and displays the standard obverse
as other denominations in this type. The reverse, however,
presents us with a seated Britannia, the beloved symbol of Great
Britain, not unlike Miss Liberty to the United States.
to the penny are not found in the series, but inLady
Frances Carfax, a mention of two pence
appears regarding the price per word for a telegram. Holmes also
receives two pence as partial payment for "rubbing down the
horses" while disguised as a common man in A
Scandal in Bohemia. Twopence also is the fee
paid for a typewritten page to Miss Sutherland in A
Case of Identity.
half penny was identical in design and composition to the penny.
was unable to find a reference to this denomination in the
Sherlock Holmes series.
farthing is equivalent to a quarter pence, and as mentioned
above, was struck between 1895 and 1901. (The name
"farthing" comes from the term "fourthing",
or dividing into fourths.)
no reference to the value of a farthing is mentioned within the
Photography by Bruce Lorich
References: Standard Catalogue of
World Coins - Krause/Mishler; Coins of England and the
United Kingdom - Seaby