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The term originally referred to actual coins issued by authority of the British monarch for use within the kingdom or realm: see, for example, the 18th-century quotations.



coin of the realm (uncountable)

  1. (law, dated) The legal money of a country.
    Synonym: legal tender
    • [1769, William Blackstone, “Of High Treason”, in Commentaries on the Laws of England, book IV (Of Public Wrongs), Oxford: Printed at the Clarendon Press, OCLC 65350522, page 89:
      [I]t was thought expedient by ſtatute 1 Mar. ſt. 2. c. 6. to revive ſpecies thereof; viz. 1. That if any perſon falſely forge or counterfeit any ſuch kind of coin of gold or ſilver, as is not the proper coin of this realm, [...] ſuch offences ſhall be deemed high treaſon.]
    • [1774 July, “Remarks on the Late Proclamation Concerning the Gold Coin”, in Sylvanus Urban [pseudonym; Edward Cave], editor, The Gentleman’s Magazine, and Historical Chronicle, volume XLIV, London: Printed [], for D[avid] Henry, and sold by F[rancis] Newbery, [], OCLC 192374019, page 309:
      The late Proclamation for regulating the Gold Coin refers to the Reſolution or Order of the Lords of the Treaſury, dated July 24, 1773; [...] [T]he third Claſs in the above Table is ultimately to be the only ſtandard Gold Coin of the Realm.]
    • 1835, Thomas Stephen, “The Rise, Progress, and Gradual Improvement of the Laws of England”, in The Book of the Constitution of Great Britain: [], Glasgow; Edinburgh: Blackie & Son, []; Dublin: W. Curry, Jun., & Co.; London: Simpkin & Marshall, OCLC 63002787, pages 275–276:
      In the year 1819, Sir Robert Peel brought in a bill, and which finally passed both houses, and received the royal assent on the 2nd July, for continuing the restrictions contained in several acts of parliament, on payments in cash by the bank of England, until the 1st day of May, 1823, and to provide for the gradual resumption of cash payments: [...] VIII. After the first day of May, 1822, the bank of England, if they shall think fit, may pay or exchange the lawful coin of the realm, for any of their own notes, payable on demand.
    • 1840, Henry Roscoe; T[homas] C[olpitts] Granger, “Coining”, in A Digest of the Law of Evidence in Criminal Cases, 2nd edition, London: Saunders and Benning, [], (successors to J[oseph] Butterworth and Son,) [], OCLC 504762805, page 357:
      Upon an indictment under the statute, it must be proved that the coin was counterfeit, in the same manner as in cases of counterfeiting the coin of the realm, [...]
    • 1930 September, Jay T. Stocking, “Immortal Money”, in Samuel McCrea Cavert, editor, Federal Council Bulletin: A Journal of Religious Cooperation and Interchurch Activities, volume XIII, number 7, New York, N.Y.: Federal Council of the Churches of Christ in America, ISSN 1080-918X, OCLC 718428550, page 12, column 1:
      An American traveler, let us say, lands at Calais with a pocket full of American money; his purse may fairly bulge. But he cannot buy so much as a newspaper or a breakfast roll with it. As far as his ability to purchase the very necessities of life is concerned, he might as well be penniless. His American money is worthless to him on that other shore until he has exchanged it for the coin of the realm.
    • 2004, William J. Bernstein, “A Hypothesis of Wealth”, in The Birth of Plenty: How the Prosperity of the Modern World was Created, New York, N.Y.: McGraw-Hill, DOI:10.1036/007144291X, →ISBN, page 29:
      Early in the second millennium, the spread of the money economy eroded and eventually destroyed feudalism. The moment that a peasant could sell his labor to the highest bidder, the ties that bound servant and master dissolved. [...] Not only were individuals able to buy their freedom with coin of the realm; at times, entire villages did so, as when the northern French city of Coucy-le-Château bought its charter of liberties from the penniless widow of the lord for 140 livres in 1197.
  2. (figuratively) Something that is valued like money within a particular context.
    • 2003, “Nonprofit Organizations”, in Karen Christensen and David Levinson, editors, Encyclopedia of Community: From the Village to the Virtual World (Sage Reference), volume 1, Thousand Oaks, Calif.; London: Sage Publishers, →ISBN, page 1006:
      As trust in government declines, it becomes more and more difficult to make effective use of state power. For nonprofit and voluntary organizations, these issues do not arise. Free choice is the coin of the realm: Donors give because they choose to do so. Volunteers work of their own volition.
    • 2007, Joseph Benning, “The Politics of Finance”, in Trading Strategies for Capital Markets, New York, N.Y.: McGraw-Hill, →ISBN, page 17:
      In financial markets the coin of the realm is returns; in politics it is power. Modern capital markets mediate competing claims for money and power among governments and businesses, savers and borrowers.


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