What seem the best ideas for a blog post usually invade my consciousness at about ‘clock in the morning when I am restless and trying to get some sleep. In the cool light of day any thoughts can sometimes turn out to be rubbish. This was a case in point, even though the idea sounded good at the time.
What I am about to relate may sound convoluted; I hope it makes sense. At least it shows how my mind works. Dave Smith, ‘Searcher’ on the NRH forum posted some of his finds for identification and amongst these was (maybe) a silver cufflink:
Many years ago I had unearthed something rather similar and joked that we now had a ‘full set’. I was also able to tell him that mine was a Georgian link, circa late 18th to 19th century, and made of white metal. I haven’t included the reverse here, but the ‘ghosting’ of the rose indicates that this part of the design was impressed, very probably by punching. Here’s the cufflink I found:
I also promised to send Dave the link free, gratis and for nowt, and he took up my offer. Now, why did I do that? In all my years of swinging the coil, I have amassed quite a few odds and ends. They will be worth very little – if anything – to my descendants. When I eventually shrug off my mortal coil they’ll just see them as a nuisance and hire a skip for disposal. The few better pieces will be offered to a museum. Sending the link to Dave, even though they are a disparate set was a good way of recycling. He will appreciate them. Indeed he said: “Thanks, John. They are very similar to the links I found but slightly smaller and very nearly a match”.
SUPERSTITIONS and SIXPENCES
Recently, I’d been reading a book about superstitions. You know the sort of thing: walking under ladders, crossing fingers, touching wood … or carrying a favourite good luck charm when metal detecting … and also the time when Maggie Thatcher killed off the sixpence.
Briefly, the sixpence, introduced in 1551, was made obsolete by the decimalisation of sterling and the last coins were struck in 1967, but that’s another story. What’s the connection between superstitions, cufflinks and sixpences? Stay with me. It happened like this …
I had a brainwave! Why not capitalise on all the sixpences I’ve found and make some money? The coin is meant to be lucky. You may have heard the saying echoed in the illustration above, except there is a fifth line, which today seems obsolete: ‘and a silver sixpence in her shoe.’ A sixpence in the bride’s shoe was placed there by the father wishing her prosperity, love and happiness in her marriage. For optimum fortune, the sixpence should be worn in the left shoe. I collected all my tanners together. Here’s a sample:
I had the brilliant idea of making that fifth line more relevant. Make a collection, clean them up by dunking in tomato ketchup or the latest culinary cleaner of the time (just joking, Mr. Barford) and sell them for brides to place in their shoe.
Alas, in the cold light of day a quick check on eBay showed me that a thousand other people had had the same idea. Back to the drawing board!
Why did we call the sixpence a tanner?
My first port of call was the Oxford English Dictionary, which said that the origin of ‘tanner’ is uncertain. Asking Mr. Google the same question brought forth a myriad of different answers. I go along (with reservations) with those who give this as a possible source.
The name ‘tanner’ came about during the reign of George II when the silver sixpence was designed by John Sigismund Tanner, and the denomination was known as a tanner since then. Tanner was chief engraver at the Royal Mint for about 40 years from 1728 and engraved dies for the gold coins of 1739, for the copper coinage of 1740 and for the silver coins from 1743.
I’ve found out that the designer died in 1775 and the king in 1760. And now the plot thickens. I also read that the very first use of the word ‘tanner’ to mean ‘sixpence’ did not appear in print before 1811. You would have expected the word to emerge in written form somewhere during their lifetimes rather than about two generations later. I very much doubt we’d decide to nickname a coin today after a designer who worked in 1950! Info cobbled together from various sources.
Just to give you a taste of one off the other improbable theories:
… this alternative name for the sixpence probably dates from the early 1800s and seems to have its root in the Romany gypsy ‘tawno’ which means ‘small one’.
Take your pick … or search for yourself 🙂