Younger people seem to use contactless cards or smartphone apps for even the smallest of purchases, so perhaps having a handful of change in my pocket is a sign of age.
There seemed something reassuring in the coins. Once £9 would have seemed a fortune, as it was the two £2 coins and five £1 coins were quickly spent, yet for a moment there was a childhood sense of being momentarily affluent.
Feeling well off did not require having many coins; a few would have been sufficient to fill the pocket of a boy who was small for his age. Each coin was easily identifiable by touch.
The farthings had disappeared by the time I might have had coins of my own to spend, but the ha’pennies were still in circulation. A ha’penny might buy a couple of black jacks, or four fruit salad chews in the village shop. I remember buying fruit chews at eight for a penny in the post office.
Thruppenny bits were coins of character. Eight-sided and heavy, it was not hard to know when there was thruppence in your hand. Thruppence did not buy what it once bought, but when Macey’s Mobile Shop came down our road at teatime on a Monday, it would buy a sherbet fountain. David Macey would joke with the cluster of children, holding up a sherbet fountains and declaring, “two for seven pence, thruppence for one.” We would laugh and say that we would queue up twice if we wanted two.
Sixpences, which adults called tanners for some reason no-one could ever explain (will children now ever comprehend a world before Google?), were less plentiful. A sixpence was seen as a sufficient treat to be baked in a Christmas pudding, the reason for doing so was as much a mystery as the nickname for the coin. At our primary school Christmas dinner, everyone would find a sixpence in their Christmas pudding, almost certainly provided by our headmistress.
Shillings were unassuming coins. There would be advertisements in newspapers for pre-1947 shillings, the coins before 1947 were made of silver and the value of the silver must have exceeded the face value of the shilling coins. A shilling opened up all sorts of possibilities in a sweet shop, big bars of chocolate invited a shilling being spent in one go
The smaller values were always welcome, but the coins that really weighed heavily in a pocket were the two shilling pieces and the half-crowns. The old two shilling coins carried the word “florin,” though none of us knew why. The half-crowns were a source of real joy, “half a dollar,” my Dad would call one, in those times when there were four American dollars to £1 Sterling. In memory, a half-crown offered far more options than the £9 in my pocket did.