The crown (1526-1900) was a large silver coin that was in daily use in Britain from the middle 1500s till 1900. It is the coin most commonly mentioned by Shakespeare: I will stuff your purses full of crowns.
The crown was a bit bigger than an American silver dollar: about 40 mm across with 30.33 grams of silver – almost an ounce (31.103 grams). In 1816, after the war with Napoleon, it was reduced to 28.27 grams. That is about $13.44 according to the current price of silver.
The crown was less than a pound but more than shilling:
- 4 crowns in a pound
- 5 shillings in a crown
- 60 pennies in a crown
There were half-crowns. A sixpence was a tenth of a crown.
The crown was sometimes called a dollar and “crown” is the name Shakespeare gave to the French ecu. All these coins had a similar value, here given as grams of silver:
- 30.33 English crown (1600s and 1700s)
- 29.50 French ecu (1700s)
- 28.27 English crown (1800s)
- 25.56 Spanish dollar (1700s)
- 24.06 American dollar (1800s)
It is easy to convert crowns into other money from history. The Venetian ducat, Florentine florin, Dutch guilder, Byzantine solidus and Arab dinar were all about two crowns in value. The Hebrew shekel was about a half crown and the Babylonian shekel about a third of a crown.
The talent of ancient Athens was close to a 1000 crowns: about 975. A drachma was 9.75 pennies and the obol 1.6 pennies. (There were 6 obols in a drachma and 6000 drachmas in a talent.)
The Roman denarius was 7.6 pennies in Cicero’s time, 3.1 in Charlemagne’s.
Britain has continued to make crowns since 1900 even though they have fallen out of daily use. They are now made of cheap metal and have a face value of five pounds. Given the price of silver, that is not far from its old value: about six pounds.
The crown first appeared in 1526 in the time of Henry VIII. At first it was made of gold. In 1551 the first silver crown appeared. Gold crowns stopped coming out in 1662. From then until 1900 the crown was the largest silver coin in common use.
Something that I am trying out is to express money as crowns. The dollar and the pound have lost much of their value in the 1900s. They are nearly meaningless if you are talking about a period of more than ten years. Crowns, on the other hand, were much better at keeping their value.
I will use metric crowns and pennies:
- 1 metric crown = 30.00 grams of silver = 60 metric pennies
- 1 metric penny = 0.50 grams of silver
This is very close to the crowns and pennies that Shakespeare and Pepys knew: 30.33 grams and 0.50544 grams.
When I use crowns I will convert it to current American dollars on first mention. Similarly, when I use dollars I will convert it to crowns on first mention.