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Wedding Wisdom: Why a Sixpence? - Ladue News: Weddings & Engagements

Wedding Wisdom: Why a Sixpence?

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Posted: Thursday, June 20, 2013 12:00 pm

There is the classic wedding ditty that says, Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue, and a sixpence in her shoe.

A sixpence is a coin used in the United Kingdom from the beginning of the empire's minting of coinage in 1551. One sixpence represented six pennies. Long obsolete, the sixpence was taken out of circulation in 1967.

In the Middle Ages, people were becoming inquisitive about the world they lived in. Because so many things in their lives were unexplainable, they tended to blame anything bad that happened (i.e., a famine, plague, a stillborn child, etc.) on the presence of evil spirits. Anything people could do to ward off those evil spirits always seemed like a wise idea. People believed that during ‘rites of passage,’ these spirits were particularly active. A wedding was one such rite of passage. The common folk felt it was very important to use any and all good luck charms to keep the bride and groom safe on their wedding day.

There were myriad elements considered to be good-luck tokens and an equal number of items to deter bad luck. Talismans such as horseshoes (with the open end up) and coins were considered especially good luck tokens.

During the 17th century, it became tradition for the lord of the manor to give his bride a gift of silver as a wedding gift. The less fortunate people, unable to afford huge silver services, put a silver sixpence in the bride's shoe. This was usually given by the bride's family to the couple as their dowry, as most had very little to give.

The tradition to give the sixpence as a symbol of good luck continues today, with some families passing down the same sixpence to generations of brides.

Many people ask about the thistle on the back of the coin. The thistle is the symbol of Scotland, as the shamrock is in Ireland. More than once during the Middle Ages has a barefooted enemy alerted a sleeping village by his yelps of pain after stepping on the particularly thorny thistle.

The thistle has been a Scottish symbol of luck since the 15th century. Today, British coins include the thistle from Scotland, shamrock from Ireland, leeks from Wales and rose from England.

Since Britain still uses the pound sterling, you still find some coins marked this way. Because Ireland joined the European Union and now uses the Euro, you'll have to cross the pond to get your lucky coin.

The 1952 sixpence is one of the most-collected coins in the world—the year that Queen Elizabeth's father died and she became Queen of England.

In the U.S., a penny has become the American substitute. Does it ‘work’ as good as a sixpence? Well, you'll have to tell me!

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