AskDefine | Define bawbee

Dictionary Definition

bawbee n : an old Scottish coin of little value

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. A halfpenny. Scotch.

Extensive Definition

A bawbee was a Scottish halfpenny. The word means, properly, a debased copper coin, equal in value to a half-penny, issued from the reign of James V of Scotland to the reign of William II of Scotland. They were hammered until 1677, when they were produced upon screw presses

Literary references

It was metaphorically used for a fortune by Sir Alexander Boswell, the son of the more famous James Boswell, the biographer of Dr. Johnson. It occurs in the song of Jennie’s Bawbee
Quoth he, "My goddess, nymph, and queen,
Your beauty dazzles baith my e'en",
But deil a beauty had he seen
But Jennie’s bawbee
Sir Alexander took the hint of his song from a much older one:-
A' that e'er my Jeanie had,
My Jeanie had, my Jeanie had,
A' that e'er my Jeanie had
Was ae bawbie
There's your plack, and my plack,
And your plack, and my plack,
And Jeanie's bawbie.
Brewer's lists "Jenny's Bawbee" as meaning a "marriage portion".
The term "bawbee" was still being used in Lowland Scots in the 20th Century, is still used to refer to Bawbee Baps or cakes in Aberdeen (i.e. cheap baps). A popular song, The Crookit Bawbee, was recorded by The Alexander Brothers and Kenneth McKellar amongst others, and the tune remains a staple for Scottish country dance band music. The song has a rich suitor asking why his "bright gowd" and "hame... in bonnie Glenshee" are being turned down, the lady referring to a laddie when she was a young "bairnie", and her heart "Was gi'en him lang-syne, for this crookit bawbee." Inevitably the rich suitor turns out to be the laddie returned to his love.
The bawbee is referred to in the popular Lowland Scots song Coulter's Candy, widely sung as a lullaby:
Ally Bally Ally Bally Bee
Sittin on your mammy's knee
Greetin for a wee bawbee
Tae buy some Coulter's candy


Wha'll hire, wha'll hire, whall hire me?
Three plumps and a wallop for ae bawbee.
The tale is that the people of Kirkmahoe were so poor, they could not afford to put any meat into their broth. A 'cute cobbler invested all his money in buying four sheep-shanks, and when a neighbour wanted to make mutton broth, for the payment of one halfpenny the cobbler would "plump" one of the sheep-shanks into the boiling water, and give it a "wallop" or whisk round. He then wrapped it in a cabbage-leaf and took it home. This was called a gustin bone, and was supposed to give a rich "gust" to the broth. The cobbler found his gustin bone very profitable.
The word "bawbee" is derived from the Laird of Sillebawby, a mint-master. That there was such a laird is quite certain from the Treasurer's account, September 7th, 1541, "In argento receptis a Jacobo Atzinsone, et Alexandro Orok de Sillebawby respective."
However, Brewer's also gives an alternative etymology, and states its origin from "French, bas billon, (debased copper money)".


bawbee in Italian: Bawbee
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