O’Brien Coin Guide: Irish Pre-Decimal Sixpence

The sixpence (6d) (Irish: reul) coin was a sub-division of the pre-decimal Irish pound, worth 1/40 of a pound or ½ of a shilling.  It ‘nickname’ was a ‘tanner’ and it is thought that this is from John Sigismund Tanner, originally from Saxe-Coburg, who was a medallist and designer at the Royal Mint.  The sixpence he designed for George II popularly gained his name and this stuck for all the other designs right up until decimalisaton.

In 1927 a competition was run by the Irish Government to design new coins and entries were put forward by several renowned artists, sculptors and designers of the day, including :-

Ireland Irish Paul Manship Pattern Sixpence

Paul Manship Pattern Sixpence

Apart from the plaster models, Manship also had one of each coin struck as a pattern in bronze.  Each Manship pattern is unique and Manship donated them to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1929, the year Metcalfe’s designed coins were released. He also donated his studio set of the eight plaster models to the Smithsonian Art Museum (among other studio models) in 1965 a year before his death.

Ireland Irish coin Pablo Morbiducci Pattern Sixpence

Pablo Morbiducci Pattern Sixpence

The Morbiducci ‘die struck’ patterns are extremely rare and some are in the hands of private collectors.  When they appear at auction, they usually command a very high premium and are subject to frenzied bidding.

Eleven Morbiducci sixpences are known to exist.

  • 5 pattern sixpences struck in silver
  • 4 pattern sixpences struck in bronze
Ireland Irish coin sixpence reverse

The 1927 competition was won by English artist Percy Metcalfe and his modified design of an Irish Wolfhound is illustrated above.

The obverse featured the Irish harp. From 1928 to 1937 the date was split either side of the harp with the name Saorstát Éireann circling around.

Ireland Irish sixpence coin

1928 Ireland sixpence obverse

Irish Free State

1928   3,201,000
1934      600,000
1935      520,000

Struck in nickel and, like the threepence coin, and was very well wearing – thus making the ‘higher grades’ difficult to assess.  Later issues, in cupro-nickel are not so hard-wearing and are difficult to find in the higher grades.

Ireland Irish sixpence coin obverse Eire

Ireland 1955 Sixpence (new obverse design)

Republic of Ireland
1939      876,000
1940   1,120,000

Struck in nickel

The metal was changed to cupro-nickel in 1942 as nickel increased in value; this coin, which consisted of 75% copper and 25% nickel, was not as well-wearing.

  • These coins measured 0.825 inches (21.0 mm) in diameter
  • They weighed 4.53593 grams.

Republic of Ireland
1942   1,320,000
1945      400,000
1946      720,000
1947      800,000
1948      800,000
1949      600,000
1950      800,000
1952      800,000
1953      800,000
1955      600,000
1956      600,000
1958      600,000
1959   2,000,000
1960   2,020,000
1961   3,000,000
1962   4,000,000
1963   4,000,000
1964   6,000,000
1966   2,000,000
1967   4,000,000
1968   8,000,000
1969   2,000,000

During the run up to decimalisation, it was expected that the sixpence (or a re-named decimal equivalent) would circulate alongside the new decimal coins, with a value of 2½ new pence in Ireland and in the United Kingdom.

  • With this in mind, the Central Bank of Ireland continued to have the coin minted, last dated 1969, while minting and stock-piling the new decimal coins.
  • This idea, however, was quickly rejected as being incompatible with the forthcoming decimal currency and the sixpence was withdrawn – alongwith the threepence and halfcrown.


Related Articles

Irish Pre-Decimal Coins (1928-1969)


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