AskDefine | Define groat

Dictionary Definition

groat n : a former English silver coin worth four pennies [syn: fourpence]

User Contributed Dictionary



Etymology 1

Old English grot


  1. (usually in pl. groats) hulled grain

Etymology 2

From Groschen?


  1. Any of various old coins of England and Scotland.
  2. An historic English silver coin worth four English pennies, long out of use.

Extensive Definition

Groat is the traditional name of an English silver coin worth four English pennies, and also a Scottish coin originally worth fourpence, with later issues being valued at eightpence and a shilling.


The name has also been applied to any thick or large coin, such as the Groschen (grosso), a silver coin issued by Tyrol in 1271 and Venice in the 13th century, which was the first of this general size to circulate in the Holy Roman Empire and other parts of Europe. The immediate ancestor to the groat was the French gros tournois or groat of Tours, which was known as the groot (Dutch for "great" or "large") in the Netherlands.
The name groat also refers to a range of other European coins such as those of the Italian peninsula known as a grosso including the grosso of Venice. Marco Polo referred to the groat in recounts of his travels to East Asia when describing the currencies of the Yuan Empire. His descriptions were based on the conversion of 1 bezant = 20 groats = 133⅓ tornesel.


It was after the French silver coin had circulated in England that an English groat was first minted under King Edward I.
Scots groats were not issued until the reign of David II. Scots groats were originally also worth fourpence, but later issues were valued at eightpence and a shilling.
Irish groats were minted first in 1425 and the last ones were minted under the reign of Elizabeth I of England. There were also two more issues, both emergency coinage.
While strictly speaking, the English groat should have contained four pennyweights or 96 grains (6.2 grams) of sterling silver, the first ones issued weighed 89 grains (5.8 g) and later issues became progressively lighter. The weight was reduced to 72 grains (three pennyweights or 4.7 g) under Edward III, 60 grains (3.9 g) under Henry IV, and 48 grains (3.1 g) under Edward IV. From 1544 to 1560 (the weight being reduced to 32 grains (2.1 g) in 1559) the silver fineness was less than sterling, and after the 1561 issue they were not generally issued for circulation again for about a hundred years.
From the reigns of Charles II to George III, groats (by now often known as fourpences) were issued on an irregular basis for general circulation, the only years of mintage after 1786 being in 1792, 1795, and 1800. After this the only circulating issues were from 1836 to 1855, with proofs known from 1857 and 1862 and a colonial issue of 1888. These last coins had the weight further reduced to about 27 grains (1.9 grams) and were the same diameter as the silver threepenny pieces of the day although thicker. They also had Britannia on the reverse, while all other silver fourpenny pieces since the reign of William and Mary have had a crowned numeral "4" as the reverse, including the silver fourpenny Maundy money coins of the present. Some groats continued to circulate in Scotland until the 20th century.
At times in the past, silver twopenny coins have been called "half-groats."

Cultural references

The word "groat" has entered into a number of English and Scottish expressions, many of them now archaic.
In the north of England, there is the saying "Blood without groats is nothing" meaning "family without fortune is worthless." The allusion is to black-pudding, which consists chiefly of blood and oats formed into a sausage. "Not worth a groat" is an old saying meaning "not worth a penny", i.e. worthless.
Benjamin Franklin, in his book, Necessary Hints gives the following thrifty advice:
He that spends a groat a day idly, spends idly above six pounds a year."
In Beatrix Potter's The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin, there is the following riddle:
"Riddle me, riddle me, rot-tot-tote! A little wee man in a red red coat! A staff in his hand, and a stone in his throat; If you'll tell me this riddle, I'll give you a groat."
The answer is a cherry.
According to Hawkins' History of the Silver Coins of England, groats were also known as "Joeys",
"so called from Joseph Hume, M.P., who strongly recommended the coinage for the sake of paying short cab-fares, etc."
This refers to the Victorian four-penny piece. The mention of cab fares is related to the fact that the standard minimum was four pence, so many passengers paid with a six-penny piece, allowing the cabby to keep the two pence change as a tip. The slang name "Joey" was transferred to the silver / cupronickel three-penny pieces in use in the first third of the twentieth century.
John o' Groats, commonly (and mistakenly) regarded as the most northerly part of the Scottish mainland, in Caithness despite its appearance has nothing to do with the coin, but is in fact a corruption of "Jan de Groot", the name of a Dutchman who migrated there, in the reign of James IV



  • Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable (1898)
  • Handbook of the Coins of Great Britain and Ireland in the British Museum
  • James Mackay - John Mussel (eds.): Coin Price Guide to British coins, Token Publishing Ltd, Axminster, Devon
  • Ian Halley Stewart. The Scottish Coinage, Spink & Son, Londra, 1955

External links

  • British Coins - Free information about British coins. Includes an online forum.
groat in German: Groat
groat in Italian: groat
groat in Japanese: グロート
groat in Russian: Гроут
groat in Scottish Gaelic: Gròt

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

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