The Britons began making coins from about 100BC, in imitation of Roman practice. They were made mainly in the West Country or the Thames Valley. This practice was stopped by the Romans when Britain became part of the Empire, and only imported Roman coinage was allowed. Roman coins were not minted again in Britain until 155AD, but once begun, this process continued until the late 300’s, when the Roman Empire began to disintegrate.
In the early Anglo-Saxon period, where coins were used at all, they were gold pieces from the continent – the ‘solidus’ weighing a hefty 4 grams, or another coin one third of its value, called the ‘tremissis’. Because of their high value, they were fairly useless for everyday transactions and were in any case prized more as jewellery or as gifts than as currency.
It was more than two centuries later, around the 620’s, before the Anglo-Saxons began minting gold coins of their own, called ‘thrymsas’, which echoed the Latin ‘tremissis’. These were probably the ancestors of ‘shillings’. The designs were often imitations of Roman ones, with lettering sometimes malformed or not even making sense!
Towards the end of the 600’s, the gold currency disappeared, to be replaced by a coinage of pure silver. The new coins were called ‘sceattas’, but it wasn’t until the 760’s that a new ‘penny’ coinage began, first in Mercia, then in Kent, with twelve to a shilling.